REVIEW: The Killjoys Are Racing To New York In National Anthem #5

Max pictured with tiger's eyes on the cover of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #5

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.

The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #5

Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Nate Piekos (letterer), Leonardo Romero (artist), Shaun Simon (writer), Gerard Way (writer)
Dark Horse Comics
February 10, 2021

The cover of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #5, depicting a woman in a mask all in purple, sharp teeth and claws.

Things are certainly getting interesting. I would not have ever referred to the Killjoys series 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.

The superpower thing is just one way I see this series subverting tropes. Another way that occurred to me during this issue is that National Anthem is meant to be a prequel. And it is—it takes place way before the original Killjoys comics. But a prequel comes with an implication that you’re going back to the beginning of a story, and National Anthem is still already in the middle of a story that spans backwards through the lives of the main characters. It’s earlier in the timeline, but I’m still wondering what happened before, how we got to even this point. This prequel could easily have its own prequel. And this is just slightly frustrating, because I expected to learn more about the history and I do want to know the history! But really, I think it’s an interesting way of preserving a feeling that I associate with the Killjoys series, which is the feeling that you’re only seeing a tiny slice of a much bigger world.

Kara and Max share a quiet moment discussing her husband Jeffery in the bus station parking lot

Another thing the Killjoys comics have always been good at is packing more action than you’d expect in the number of pages given, and while this issue is no exception, it did feel a little disjointed in a way I found slightly off-putting. The quiet moments in between are often where you’ll find the heart of the characters. While there were a couple good examples of that in issue #5—Max and Kara’s discussion about her husband, Jaime once again nailing the feeling of a lonely, rebellious child as he sits on the curb and writes the word “FUCK” on the ground—they were so quick and it was back to the action so fast that the reader didn’t have enough time to really sit with them. I suppose there’s something to be said to the way it immersively conveyed that feeling of frantic activity, but ultimately it made it feel to me like it was missing something.

I mentioned Max and Kara, and although Kara’s arc is not central to this issue, I do want to touch on it, as I complained about her lack of agency in the last couple of issues. After meeting back up with her husband at a bus stop, she decided not to go with him to Kansas City as he was urging her to do with bland reassurances, almost pleasantries, about everything that had happened to them. This is what I desperately wanted to see from Kara—a decisive choice that she was given the space to make on her own. I tasted her bitter disappointment that he didn’t remember the real story the way she did; I felt her frustration as she got back into the car, giving up a life she loved because she wasn’t willing to live a lie. (To be honest, even though this story isn’t about her transness, I can still really relate to that feeling as a trans person myself.) It wasn’t a decision she wanted to make, but she made it for herself—and while it doesn’t totally make up for her treatment in the previous issues, it does make me feel a lot better about her continued involvement in the story. (She also punches the absolute shit out of a cop car in this issue, and “trans women punching the shit out of cop cars” is the energy I’m looking for in 2021.)

The one aspect of National Anthem I continue to have absolutely no complaints about is the art—both Leonardo Romero’s illustration and Jordie Bellaire’s colors, which work together seamlessly to perfectly achieve the iconic comic book aesthetic. I could absolutely see a poster of all the Killjoys in the car, getting ready to plow through a line of cop cars, hanging proudly on a teenager’s bedroom wall in the ’70s. The character’s facial expressions consistently blow me away, they’re so emotive. I can feel Kara’s determination before launching into battle, Mike’s anguish when he finds out hard truths about his past. This issue also adds body horror to the list of aesthetic genres that Romero and Bellaire tackle, and its great to see their take on that in this signature style.

Mike, Jaime, Kara and Max all threateningly pose with their arms hanging out of Mike's car as it rushes forward, tires throwing up dust, in the title page image for The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #5

This is the penultimate issue of National Anthem and if I had to sum up all my remaining questions into one, it would be: how are they possibly going to answer the rest of my questions in only one more issue?! Issue #5 ends with a cliffhanger that made me gasp out loud, but I also still have open questions about the scarecrow, the witch—and now even the radio DJ! It definitely doesn’t feel like a coincidence that they keep touching on aspects of the universe that I already care about as a Killjoys fan, but I’m starting to come to terms with the likelihood that not everything is going to wrap up neatly and I’m going to be left with questions even after the series is over. While I’d like to know it all, it’s not really the Killjoys way to satisfy all my curiosities, so I’m looking at the bright side—as a self-admitting Killjoys fanfiction writer, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to decide exactly how I think it all fits together!

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.