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.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #3
Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Leonardo Romero (artist), Shaun Simon (writer), Gerard Way (writer)
Dark Horse Comics
December 9, 2020
But even as old dynamics reestablish themselves, new dynamics are also forming. There’s a kid traveling with the gang this time. Red, or Sofia as she goes by now, has been taking care of Jaime, and he was there during the shootout at the school in issue #2, so now he’s on the road with them as the story unfolds. Though Sofia claims Jaime is her cousin’s son, the narrative strongly suggests she isn’t being honest. Not only does Jaime eerily resemble Mike, but there was a flashback in issue #2 revealing that Mike’s girlfriend Blue had frozen an embryo while she was still alive—which Sofia knew about, but Mike did not. Even though Mike is none the wiser, at this point, about Jaime’s likely origins, the dynamic between the two of them is compelling. Mike is immediately drawn to teach the kid to use a gun, telling him to “think of something that caused you pain” while he’s holding it. The others don’t think it’s an appropriate lesson for a child, but Mike seems to feel that Jaime needs to be equipped to stand up for himself in the harsh world they live in.
There’s another new dynamic that I’m not quite so keen on, which involves the last member of the gang, who they track down in this issue. They discover that their friend Kara is a transgender woman, and also that she was clearly much more successful at establishing herself in the real world after the Analog Wars, with a career and a family and a life. While the gang is respectful of her identity—she gets deadnamed exactly once, before they learn her new name, and she’s never misgendered—but I’m still not sure this is the kind of transgender representation I’d like to see more of in comics.
Kara, with more to lose than the other Killjoys, is invested in maintaining the status quo. It feels uncomfortable to me to make a trans woman the voice advocating for conformity in this dystopian society. She even comments at one point that her friends were “hoping [she] was someone else,” and while this is referring to the fact that she’s no longer up for shootouts in the desert, it does also seem to draw a connection back to their acceptance of her transness—which, again, is a link I’m uncomfortable with. It’s a longstanding (and harmful) trope to accuse straight trans women of being conformists and holding up the patriarchy, and I don’t think the allusions to it here are doing the community any favors. That said, Kara has only been in the comic for half an issue now, and I’m willing to withhold some judgement and see what happens next with her arc. (I think it’s also worth nothing that Mags Visaggio appears to be their sensitivity reader, since she gets a special thanks on the creators page—but she is not a stranger to controversy when it comes to trans representation in comics.)
Visually, however, the series continues to be unquestionably impressive. Artist Leonardo Romero’s vintage-comic-esque illustrations and colorist Jordie Bellaire’s retro dot shading are just impeccable, both in the emotions they convey and the aesthetic they foster. The attention to detail is admirable: small touches like displaying memories in the style of shaky old VHS tapes are really impactful. Strikingly different color palettes for different locations is highly effective when it comes to setting distinct atmospheres. The city scenes in the first two issues were mainly represented with dark blue and black tones, but out on the dusty road in the desert, everything seems to be in shades of yellow and pink. And I absolutely love the vibe of the desert, particularly the Circus Fireworks safehouse. It says so much about what the lives of the Killjoys were like. One panel in particular, depicting an explosion during a fight scene, was so strikingly beautiful it made me gasp out loud.
And the attention to detail is present in the story as well as the art. As I predicted in my last review, some pieces of the plot that I was confused about are slowly unfolding themselves to me, like how and why some people see or remember things differently than other people. I’m still not totally clear who “Mom and Dad” were, but I’m starting to be able to draw a line from that to B.T. Global Marketing, and possibly from that to the Better Living Industries I know from the Killjoys’ future. References to aspects of the series I’m already familiar with are exciting to me as an old fan, but also keep encouraging me to ask more questions. I had some big emotions about Mike referring to Dr. Death Defying as their “guardian angel” but it also makes me wonder—if Dr. D has been around since the Analog Wars, where did he come from and what has he been doing all this time?
But I love asking questions like these, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see which get answered. And I know I can always count on the Killjoys to make sure the journey is a wild ride.