REVIEW – Magic Blooms in the Desert in Killjoys: National Anthem #4

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 True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #4

Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Leonardo Romero (artist), Shaun Simon (writer), Gerard Way (writer)
Dark Horse Comics
January 13, 2021

The cover of National Anthem #4, depicting a blonde woman surrounded by candles, a witch, a mask, Mike Milligram falling through darkness

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.

And it really is a whirlwind of activity in issue #4. The narrative is starting to answer some of the open questions that it’s already posed—at this point, we’ve seen what the other gangs are up to and what’s going on with B.T. Global has at least begun to become clearer. But with only two issues left in the series after this, I was surprised by how many brand new questions it’s still opening. A major new mystery is introduced in this issue—about Blue and why her face and name are in B.T.’s system years after she was (supposedly) killed.

It also poses some odd questions about other aspects of the Killjoys universe that are of interest to fans of the series. For instance, in the original Killjoys media, scarecrows are elite agents of Better Living Industries. They eliminate threats and enemies of the corporation and command units of draculoids, footsoldiers in creepy, mind-controlling masks. Here, we see a single person who is referred to as the Scarecrow, who scares even the corporate suits he works for, and he wears that same mask (although in a particularly nice touch of flavor, it’s just a regular Halloween mask that he grabs off the rack at a store). This is obviously the precursor to the scarecrows and draculoids that I’m aware of, and now I’m dying of curiosity about how one eventually morphed into the other—but will National Anthem have time to answer that question in only two more issues?

4 panels of glimpses of a convenience store; signs for the halloween aisle, picking up a mask, a jacket, the shadow of a gun

But the most arcane mystery, and the biggest example yet of appealing to my little Killjoy-loving heart, is the inclusion of a “witch” in issue #4. In Killjoys lore, there is a myth about a grim reaper-like character called the “Phoenix Witch” who accepts offerings of items that were close to the dead to help her guide them into the afterlife. In this issue, the witch and her young assistant heal Kara, send Mike on a strange out-of-body experience through his own past, and reveal to Jaime some truths about himself. And they appear to do so using real magic—which doesn’t seem to be an enormous shock to any of the characters, who refer to its effects casually as “a spell.” This casual inclusion of real magic in the Killjoys universe is fascinating to me, and I can’t help but wonder if these characters will tie into the Phoenix Witch mythos as well, which is already one of my favorite aspects of the setting.

This is also a great segue to talking about the art, which is only getting more phenomenal as the series goes on. The “House of Horrors” where the witch lives is another incredibly intricate setting with a delightfully creepy aesthetic, and as always, all the little background details make the world feel full and immersive. The depiction of magic in particular is gorgeous and uses more vivid colors than have really been seen in the rest of the series thus far. The two page spread of Mike’s out-of-body experience are colorful, abstract, psychedelic and absolutely breathtaking, like falling through a kaleidoscope. This is a comic that’s asking to be read and re-read again, just to spend more time with the art, which has me noticing new details every time I look back at it. The same was true of the final fight scene, which was so rich with details. The setting, the action, even what the characters were wearing—all these aspects contributed equally to the atmosphere of the scene, thanks to the care that was put into the art.

The witch, wearing a clown mask, performs magic in bright pink and orange geometrical shapes. Cara glows blue and floats, being healed. Mike sits beside her and watches, Jaime watches with awe from a doorway

I’m interested in what they plan to do with Jaime, who found out that Mike is his father in this issue. (I don’t like when comics do a dramatic reveal as if you’re supposed to be shocked about something that was already clear to the omniscient reader, and it handled that well.) His reaction to this new information really tracks with how I think a kid might react. He’s going through a formative event during this story and it’s fascinating to see how it changes his demeanor in real time.

Unfortunately, I’m still not happy with the treatment of Kara, which I talked about at greater length in my last review. Her injury in issue #3 was the only reason she was pulled back into the gang life after expressing that she wasn’t interested in that anymore, so I expected her to have something to say about that after her injury was healed, but nada. I already didn’t love the way her consent was overridden, but then to not even let her express emotions about that fact was really jarring to me. In fact, the others barely even made sure she was okay after being miraculously brought back from near death. Perhaps its meant to be a plot point that the other characters are rather callous to her feelings, but it doesn’t seem to be framed that way and it doesn’t feel great to introduce a trans character and then let her quietly be treated badly.

Of course, there are two issues left and I have a lot of expectations for them—better treatment for Kara, answers to quite a few open questions, and hopefully an eventual tie-in with the later Killjoys timeline. (If it doesn’t make the connection between Mike and Party Poison, it’s going to be an itch I can’t scratch for the rest of my life.) I don’t know how they’re going to pack all that into two issues, but the original Killjoys series was paced in a similar way and did have a satisfying ending, so I’m hopeful that the last two issues can live up to the high standard I’ve come to expect from this franchise.

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.