The Boys: Project Odessa & Homelander’s Childhood Trauma, Explained

For better or worse, as the prime antagonist of The Boys, Homelander has been consistently regarded as the most favorite character of the series, as fans have taken quite a liking to the psychotic, narcissistic, violent leader of the Seven over the course of four seasons. Showrunner Eric Kripke and actor Antony Starr have worked together to make the so-called ‘Greatest Supe in the World’ a truly rounded character—one who is chock full of abhorrent qualities, but at the same time one viewers can feel sympathy for, as he is a victim of circumstances as well. In the fourth episode of the ongoing fourth season of The Boys, Homelander’s sordid past is highlighted as part of Project Odessa, which in a sense explains much of his emotional and psychological complexities. 

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Spoilers Ahead


What is Project Odessa? How Did It Shape Homelander’s Psyche?

The fact that Homelander is a Vought-created product of experimentation is common knowledge among the series fans. After getting overwhelmed by certain emotional tribulations, Homelander finally decides to go back to his roots, and viewers get to learn more about his origin. In the fourth episode, it is revealed that as a part of the secretive Vought operation, Project Odessa, the former CEO of the company, Stan Edgar, scientist Jonah Vogelbaum, and the chief overseer of the project, Barbara, collaborated to create the strongest supe on the planet. As a result of their experimentation, John Gillman (Homelander’s original self) was born, and his strength was apparent from the ultraviolent way he took birth—tearing apart his mother’s womb while hovering, still holding the umbilical cord. Obviously, the uncontrollable powers were in no way John’s fault, but from that very moment on, he was looked down upon by project overseers as a monster, a freak. 

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In the past conversation that Vogelbaum had with Butcher regarding Homelander’s childhood, he shared that, up to a point in time, John was an obedient, sweet child who especially looked up to Vogelbaum as a father figure. However, in order to make John the strongest hero ever, Vought started to apply horrendous means, subjecting him to severe, deadly physical and mental experiments. Any prospect of emotional well-being was denied to him, as Vogelbaum, Barbara, and all the other members of Project Odessa treated John with cruelty, disdain, and apathy for the majority of the time. Homelander recounts being kept inside an isolation chamber, or, as he calls it, a ‘Bad Room,’ for a prolonged period of time, where he was also subjected to brainwashing through various means. This upbringing contributed to his unhinged, sociopathic, vindictive, and absolutely hateful personality, which could have resulted in him eventually turning on his creators. However, another diabolical machination by Vought ensured that their experiment doesn’t get off the leash. 

Barbara recounts that top psychologists in the world were consulted to ensure Homelander’s psyche was structured in such a way that he remains subservient to Vought. This resulted in the creation of a psychological block in Homelander’s mind, which is a rather simplistic need for validation. Even while being tortured, abused, and humiliated by members of Project Odessa, Homelander was eager to please and feared the disdain in the faces of his creators’ more than anything. This deep-rooted need for validation will eventually become Homelander’s greatest weakness, as his hankering for love and appreciation, even from the masses whom he perceived as nothing more than insects, will render all his superhuman powers useless in an instant. This is why Stan Edgar could openly call out and insult Homelander without fearing repercussions—he had a thorough idea of Homelander’s weakness.

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As a subversive, deconstructionist approach to Superman’s character, Homelander’s upbringing is a total antithesis to the Man of Steel’s, and this binary is what shapes the foundation of both of these characters. Kal El came to earth and was adopted by the loving, caring Kent couple, and their simplistic worldview and morality contributed to making him the greatest superhero on earth. Whereas John was treated like a lab rat in his formative years, without having a sense of belonging or a family. Love, kindness, or any other tender feelings had never developed in his psyche simply due to the heinous way he had been brought up. At the end of the first season, Vogelbaum apologized to John, acknowledging his mistake in turning him into an emotionally unstable monster by denying him a chance to have a normal childhood, especially attributing it to the lack of family. Irrespective of how viewers perceive Homelander, his tragic past is bound to make them feel sorry for the character.


Is Homelander Finally Free From His Mental Hold?

In the fourth episode, Homelander goes back to his birthplace and raises hell by exacting vengeance upon each of the members who had wronged him during his childhood. But as Barbara mentions, regardless of what he does to them, he can never get rid of the humane feelings that continue to plague his mind, as by now they have become the very foundation of his personality. He can denounce his birth name, John, in a gesture of denying his past; he can kill as many members of Vought as he likes, which will give him some sort of cathartic release; but he will never be truly free from the mental shackles. At the end, to traumatize Barbara like he himself was in his childhood, Homelander locks her up in the isolation room and paints it red with the mutilated corpses of the Project Odessa members he annihilated. But he too knows it for a fact that nothing he does can undo the mental conditioning Vought has subjected him to. He has come too far along the route of violence to mend his ways and find peace within himself, and the only way forward for him is through carrying on his destructive streak. 

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Siddhartha Das
Siddhartha Das
An avid fan and voracious reader of comic book literature, Siddhartha thinks the ideals accentuated in the superhero genre should be taken as lessons in real life also. A sucker for everything horror and different art styles, Siddhartha likes to spend his time reading subjects. He's always eager to learn more about world fauna, history, geography, crime fiction, sports, and cultures. He also wishes to abolish human egocentrism, which can make the world a better place.

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