Reviewing “The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem”
March 29, 2021 Jamey Hampton 1 Comment
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is one of my all time favorite franchises—and actually, it’s a bit of a confusing one. It started in 2010 with one of my all time favorite albums, My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days, which had a very Fallout wasteland radio aesthetic and featured a short series of high concept music videos about a colorful gang called the Fabulous Killjoys, living free in the desert “Zones” outside of Battery City. In 2013, the concept was continued in a comic series called The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: California, which acted as a sequel to Danger Days and started to flesh out the lore of the Killjoys universe. The 2013 comic series is a masterpiece, and I was absolutely pumped when Gerard Way announced a new prequel series called The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem, which started its run in October 2020, just in time for the 10th anniversary of Danger Days.
National Anthem is a fascinating series that follows the story of Mike Milligram, the original character who inspired the Killjoys series. Gerard Way has talked about Mike in interviews before, so as a Killjoys fan, it was pretty exciting to finally get to delve into his thoughts and backstory. There’s a lot to like about the new series—particularly, in my opinion, the fantastic art, which has a perfect vintage comic book vibe, complete with a limited pop art color palette and Ben-Day dot style shading. I found some aspects frustrating as well: the treatment of some of the characters other than Mike and the fact that it didn’t tie in quite as neatly as I was hoping to the universe I’m so hungry to know more about. But overall, it was fantastic to to get some new Killjoys content!
I reviewed the entire series for WWAC, which actually marks the first time I’ve reviewed a whole series, issue by issue. All of my reviews are listed below, with a short blurb and a link to read the full articles on the WWAC site. [Note: The reviews for issues #1-5 are mainly spoiler free, but the final review of issue #6 contains spoilers for the whole series, including the ending.]
The national anthem. It played on the original Danger Days album. It’s written on the side of Mike Milligram’s car. I’ve heard it in classrooms and sports arenas my entire life. I’ve thought, at times, about what it represents in terms of the American consciousness. So has Gerard Way, and apparently, now it’s time to get his take on it.
Ten years ago, in November 2010, My Chemical Romance released Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, a high concept album that first introduced a post-apocalyptic world of cyberpunk dystopia Battery City and the surrounding Zones of wild desert. Three years after that, the story continued in a comic miniseries, also called The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. This comic picked up about a decade after the events of the music videos and followed the story of the Girl that the original Killjoys were protecting, while giving a much more in-depth look at what life was like in the Zones for those rebellious enough to dare to live wild and free. These colorful Mad Max-esque hooligans called themselves Killjoys, in honor of the original gang who had become legends and inspirations for a new generation of desert punks.
In National Anthem #3, the Fabulous Killjoys are painstakingly putting themselves back together, bit by bit, like a strange puzzle with unexpected pieces. An abandoned fireworks warehouse in New Mexico. An old friend with a new name. A sudden memory that wasn’t there before. Speeding through the desert, on the run from deadly enemies—this is the kind of dangerous life they’re comfortable with, and Mike Milligram especially seems so much happier and more at home here than he did stocking shelves. The more the Killjoys immerse themselves in aspects of their old lives, the more like themselves they become, letting us see more and more of who they really are in their own element. These are the Killjoys I wanted to see.
Mike Milligram and the rest of the former Killjoys are still on the run in issue #4 of National Anthem. Speeding through a fast-paced desert of violence, intrigue and even magic, the Killjoys are back and the world just won’t let them have a rest…
The pacing of the comic continues to be interesting and well done. Overall, there’s a lot going on, but it strikes a nice balance between intense action sequences and the tense moments of quietness in between them. Often there’s so much happening at once that it becomes hard to follow, but I actually like that about it! It really conveys the feeling of being in the midst of a whirlwind of activity and having to sort it out afterwards—and that can be a tough thing to convey while confined to the still panel format of comics.
The Fabulous Killjoys are joyriding faster than ever in National Anthem #5, speeding towards New York to confront old faces from their past and get some overdue answers to long-forgotten questions.
Things are certainly getting interesting. I would not have ever referred to the Killjoysseries as “superhero comics” before, and this is the first issue that’s making me think about categorizing it that way—which is interesting, because normally a superhero comic would center the heroes and their superpowers. For the last couple issues, I had been questioning if the Killjoys had superpowers or not, and in issue #5 it has become increasingly clear to me that yes, they do have powers of some kind. That said, I don’t really understand exactly what those superpowers are and how they work. Kara seems to have a super punch of some sort, Max mauled people in a very animal-like way in issue #4, and here… well, I don’t want to give it away, but Red does something so surprising it even seems to throw the other characters for a loop. It’s a pretty bold narrative choice to casually give your main characters powers and then not really go into the logistics of that at all. While I would eagerly eat up a full explanation of how powers and magic work in this setting, I do also appreciate how maintaining some mystery there keeps the story focused on the Killjoys as people.
It has certainly been a wild ride for the Fabulous Killjoys, but all wild rides must eventually come to an end, and theirs was destined to end with an important choice. What are they willing to give up to live the life of a happy family? Is it worth it to be lied to, if the lies are what you want to hear?
As usual, it was a lot of action packed into one issue, but as usual, I kind of liked that—it portrayed the chaotic situation that Mike was in the midst of while trying to make this difficult decision. I also liked that while Mike was certainly the main character, he didn’t end up really being the hero. He made bad choices in the past due to his grief, and he might have even made them again given the chance, but thankfully, he had his friends supporting him—and that made room for Max and Kara to be the badasses that they are.
Thanks for checking out my reviews! If you, too, are a Killjoys fan, I have good news for you: I actually have more Killjoys content on the way soon, so keep an eye out for that!