A foul-mouthed Brit fighting a superman? That fits Manchester Black – so why do he and Billy Butcher have so much in common?
The Boys’ Billy Butcher and DC Comics’ Manchester Black have quite a lot in common. After all, they are both lanky, dark-haired Brits with a questionable moral code, an affinity for overcoats, and a perchance for antagonizing the most recognizable superheroes of the world. At a glance, many might assume Manchester Black to be an homage or outright rip-off of Butcher – except he first appeared in the pages of Action Comics, predating Butcher by several years.
Manchester Black first appeared in Action Comics #775 in 2001, created by Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke. Black is seen leading the Elite, a team of vicious anti-heroes who dispatched villains with lethal ease. They were ultimately opposed by Superman, who took issue with their violent methods. Though the Elite initially thought they had killed Superman, the Man of Steel returned and succeeded in discrediting Black by temporarily disabling his psychic powers through a micro-concussion. Black would appear as a reoccurring antagonist to Superman over the years before taking his own life after failing to defeat the Man of Steel. He would reappear after the New 52 reboot, though his latest scheme to thwart Superman ended with Black’s mind getting trapped in that of a dairy cow.
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Billy Butcher would first appear in The Boys #1 in 2006, created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson. While Butcher lacks Mandrake Black’s psychic abilities, he shares his ruthless and lethal efficiency. Butcher is the leader of the Boys, a CIA team that keeps tabs – and occasionally battles – the world’s most corrupt superheroes, including the sadistic Superman analog Homelander. In addition to the many surface-level similarities between Butcher and Black, both characters are oftentimes gleefully ruthless in their single-minded pursuit of their goals and enemies. Black has appeared outside of the comics in a DC animated movie Superman vs. the Elite, voiced by Robin Atkin Downes, as well as a captivating role on the CW’s Supergirl, played by David Ajala. However, Butcher remains the most recognizable, thanks to Karl Urban’s charismatic performance of the brutal anti-hero in the Amazon Prime series of the same name.
Butcher and Manchester Black are not the first suspiciously-similar comic book characters, such as characters like Quicksilver and the Flash, Green Arrow and Hawkeye, Doctor Strange and Doctor Fate, and perhaps most pointedly, Swamp Thing and Man-Thing. What makes Butcher and Black unique are the two were created somewhat independently of one another. Manchester Black first appeared in the story “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?”, which was itself a reaction to the rise of grim and gritty anti-heroes during the Dark Ages of the ’90s, including most prominently Warren Ellis and Bryan Hitch’s The Authority a few years earlier. Meanwhile, Butcher and the rest of the Boys were largely lampooning the current events circa 2005, including the War on Terror alongside controversial corporations like Halliburton. Ultimately, the two characters’ similarities seem mostly coincidental at this point.
However, they came to be, Butcher and Manchester Black shows that comic book creation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As a result, many comic book creators are working towards different goals, even if they are using similar archetypes to do so. Thus, while a Billy Butcher and Manchester Black crossover seems pretty unlikely, the two characters remain an effective reflection of the dark side of superheroics.
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