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?
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #6
Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Leonardo Romero (artist), Shaun Simon (writer), Gerard Way (writer)
Dark Horse Comics
March 10, 2021
[Spoiler Warning! I tried to keep my reviews of the previous issues of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem mainly spoiler free, but this discussion of the final issue may include spoilers for the whole series, including the finale.]
We pick up right at the cliffhanger left at the end of issue #5—the surprising reveal that after Blue’s death, Mike wanted to forget rather than live with her loss and he chose to give up his memories of the Killjoys. But surprise! B.T. Global had her all along, and they told Mike that his family could be reunited, if only he agrees to give up the Killjoy life and let them stage his death for public consumption. (“For good to win, the bad guys must lose,” as it was chillingly explained to him.) But when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Max and Kara actually got to be the big damn heroes here, taking out Mom & Dad once and for all and ending the illusion, including the false Blue.
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.
One thing that plot summary doesn’t really convey is how creepy this issue is. The VHS glitch aesthetic art that I loved from issue #1 is back and it feels more sinister than ever in the context of this final showdown. But the thing that really impressed me was how Romero’s art made normal things feel subtly creepy. When Blue smiled, there was nothing specific I could point to about her smile that looked abnormal, but somehow I could still just tell that something about her was off in some way. I’m honestly not sure how he conveyed this to me, and yet it was still incredibly effective somehow. I can’t stress enough how consistently the art and colors have blown me away throughout this entire series. I’m in awe of the retro-Americana vibe, and I can see myself coming back to these comics again and again to appreciate it.
Fitting for a final installment in a series, issue #6 is strongly themed around the idea of closure. Mike’s grief-fueled decision to have his memories erased instead of coming to terms with what happened with Blue denied him from experiencing closure for all these years—and much of the pain he had experienced over that time stemmed from that lack of closure. Running away from your pain, it seems, doesn’t make it go away, no matter to what lengths you go to forget it. To finally achieve closure by letting yourself really feel and accept that pain is a sad but beautiful moment, and sad but beautiful it certainly was when it happened for Mike. His last moments with Blue were poignant and touching, especially with the knowledge of how it had been such a long time coming.
Closure for the readers, though, was a little harder to find. In my review of issue #5, I came to terms in advance with the fact that there wasn’t enough time left in the series to wrap up all the questions I was still curious about. But I still found the end of the Scarecrow plotline in particular to be a bit disappointing. They spent so much time hyping him up as a scary loose canon, but Max and Kara casually defeated him—a shot fired off screen and then he was dead in the next panel. It was anticlimactic not to get an epic final battle with him, let alone actually finding out what his deal was. I’m a little surprised, also, that it never really ended up tying in with the Killjoys that I know from the My Chemical Romance music videos. The name “Party Poison” never even came up… and that just leaves me wondering about how these disparate timelines end up clicking together.
And at the very end, it seems like there’s more closure for the characters. They go back to their lives—but better this time. They’ve fixed something about society, which is (rather cleverly) visually represented by the cereal boxes at Mike’s job returning to being varied and colorful, instead of the plain black and white “CEREAL” labels from issue #1. Mike and Jaime get to be together as a family in a way that admittedly does feel satisfying. It would have been nice to see what the others went on to do also—Mike may be the main character, but I care about the ensemble cast! (I’d like to think Kara and Max went on to have a life together, as their closeness was highlighted several times and I think she deserves to be with someone who understands her and everything she’s gone through.)
But once I thought about it, I’m not convinced this is really the happy ending that it appears to be. What ever happened to “let’s never grow up, never get jobs, never drive slow”? Even though they improved society somewhat, Mike Milligram went back to working in retail. And in a way, B.T. Global still got what they wanted, too—for the “bad guys” to lose. Faking Mike’s death was more damaging to the general public than it was for Mike itself, because it represented the absolute destruction of anyone who stood up against the corporate state. (My thoughts on this may be a little biased, because National Anthem is a prequel, so I know that it gets worse, not better, from here on out.)
That said, I don’t think this story needs to have a happy ending. I mean, not everything in life does. Overall, National Anthem reads as pretty bleak, and it sometimes feels like it’s trying to be edgy—but I think both those feelings stem from the fact that themes like corporatism and manipulation of the media feel a little… too real lately. Yes, I often read comics to escape from the bleakness of the world. But always prioritizing escapism over confronting the very real problems of society is, well, exactly what led to the circumstances in National Anthem.
As a long-awaited prequel to an already beloved series, National Anthem was an ambitious undertaking with a lot to live up to. Over the past six issues, I often felt like I was being hard on the new series—I think fans tend to be quite hard on the things we love due to investment and high expectations. But despite a few complaints, I think National Anthem was a fitting addition to the series and I deeply enjoyed this dive into the Killjoys’ past. Maybe nothing will ever have a place in my heart quite like the original Killjoys series did, but National Anthem still has a permanent place on my bookshelf.