REVIEW: Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem is The Comic That 2020 Needs

Mike Milligram in his Killjoys outfit, on a deserted playground, the rest of his gang behind him

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.

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #1 & #2

Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Leonardo Romero (artist), Shaun Simon (writer), Gerard Way (writer)
Dark Horse Comics
October 14, 2020 / November 11, 2020

The cover of National Anthem #1, featuring the members of the original Killjoys posing in pop colors

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.

Now an actual decade has passed, and I’m finally getting to discover more about the original Killjoys in National Anthem, a prequel comic that centers Mike Milligram—who would eventually become Party Poison, the legendary leader of the Killjoys. The story picks up after the end of the so-called Analog Wars, with a loose association of gangs calling themselves A.K.A.s, meeting to discuss what’s next now that the wars are over. The timeline is a little vague, but you can tell that this is well before the events of Danger Days because its a proto-version of the Killjoys that are present—different members, and a younger Mike who hasn’t started calling himself Poison yet. (I do hope we see more of some of these older gangs, because they’re amazing. My favorite are the Sadie Hawkins, whose members put a punk spin on the 50s greaser and poodle skirt aesthetic.)

The first issue mainly highlights Mike’s struggle to reintegrate into mainstream society after being “de-programmed” following his victory in the Analog Wars, which seems to mostly involve losing his memories of what happened (and then struggling with the truth after regaining them). Still, even without his memories, after becoming accustomed to a life of excitement, guns and fast cars, returning to a life of televisions, advertisements and dead end jobs weighs heavy on his soul. The second issue is more action packed, and goes into what some of the other original Killjoys from the Analog Wars have been up to and how they’re coping with the regular world. It’s got pretty much everything I want in an action comic: running from the cops, an exciting firefight and it features one of my all time favorite tropes—“regular” people suddenly revealing that they were actually secret badasses all along.

Mike Milligram, in his normal clothes, is approached by a zombie-looking version of one of the old AKAs, on a public bus

While it’s super interesting to get to see this backstory playing out, at this point it’s not totally clear to me what’s going on. Both during the Analog Wars and during the fight in issue #2, there are creatures that seem to look normal to regular people but like monsters to Mike and the Killjoys—what are these creatures? There’s obviously some sort of force editing history or people’s memories of history in some way, but what is that force and how is it achieving that? Much of issue #1 is just Mike’s internal dialogue, as he waxes poetic to himself about everything he has been through. But I actually like that about it, for a couple reasons.

First, Mike Milligram is a character that Killjoys fans have been very attached to for a long time, and this chance to glimpse what its like inside his brain is exciting and meaningful to a lot of fans. Also, letting me be confused at the beginning of the story is kind of what Killjoys has always been like. The worldbuilding in this series is extremely rich, but it was nearly halfway through the original series before I really started to figure out how all the pieces fit together. I look forward to this story becoming clearer as the series continues, and I’m sure it will be fun to come back to these early issues once I have a higher-level understanding of what’s happening.

It’s hard not to keep comparing National Anthem to the original Killjoys comics, but it’s just so interesting how the vibe is familiar and yet pointedly different at the same time. The old comic takes place in a fully dystopian future, telling what essentially amounts to a post-apocalypse story. And honestly, there’s something kind of fun about a post-apocalypse story! Society has crumbled and is attempting to rebuild itself into something new and colorful and punk rock, and the big damn heroes get to try and fix it.

Mike Milligram, in his Killjoys outfit, enters a gas station and is gawked at by the "regular" people who are also shopping there

But you don’t get to that “fun” post-apocalypse without first going through a traumatic event, and that’s what we see in National Anthem. This is a story about slipping into a dystopian society and the slow realization that the encompassing situation is profoundly fucked. The image that really struck me was seeing Killjoys side by side with regular people in a gas station, two worlds that never really mixed in the original comic. Seeing this half-dystopia and knowing what’s inevitably coming next is weird and scary, and has me searching for anything that could have been doing differently that could have prevented it. It’s a theme that hits pretty hard in the scary world of 2020.

And everything about the aesthetic of the comic feeds into that theme. I’m completely enamored with Leonard Romero’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colors. It absolutely nails that retro comic books vibe, such that I can practically feel the newspaper texture of old comics when I’m reading it. The colors are perfect, not just in the limited, pop color palette, but in the dot coloring style that emulates old printing methods. It’s incredibly immersive—even, I suspect, for readers who only notice it subconsciously. And it’s a great backdrop for some of the legitimately unsettling glitch art that’s layered on top of it. I spent more time than normal with the art of these issues, examining the state of mind it put me in and how that prepared me for the heavy story being tackled.

Blue and Mike, in their Killjoys outfits, share a kiss in the desert

But of course, I still have so many questions! How does Mike become Party Poison? Where are the other members of the Killjoys that I recognize from the Danger Days videos? How do they get mixed up with the Girl? And on the other side of the aisle, how does Better Living Industries become the villainous corporation of the future that I know and hate? What of the draculoids and scarecrows? I look forward to see which of these plot threads get expanded on in the rest of this miniseries. But as a longtime ride-or-die fan of the Killjoys, I’m excited to soak up any new information about the world of my heroes. National Anthem is the Killjoys comic 2020 deserves, and I think it’s the one that Gerard Way has been wanting to write ever since 2010. But now, 10 years in the making, I’m more interested in it than ever.

Jameson Hampton

Jameson Hampton

Jamey is a non-binary adventurer from Buffalo, NY who wishes they were immortal so they’d have time to visit every coffee shop in the world. They write code, like plants, record podcasts, categorize zines and read tarot cards. Ask them about Star Wars or Vampire: the Masquerade if you dare.