Beginning with My Chemical Romance's 2010 concept album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys and continuing through with a well-received 2013 Dark Horse limited series, Gerard Way's retro-futuristic blend of Mad Max and Videodrome has been his most successful project after the Netflix-powered behemoth that is The Umbrella Academy. Now, Way and his co-writer and fellow musician Shaun Simon enlist the help of artist Leonardo Romero and colorist extraordinaire Jordie Bellaire for National Anthem #1, a visual feast with a penchant for the melodramatic that sometimes slips unintentionally into self-parody.
Written by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon
Art by Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Mike Milligram is the leader of the Killjoys, a teenage gang who fight against those who dwell in the Unseen, until a catastrophic event thrusts Milligram away from the hideous creatures that live behind our reality and into a world of shift work and endless TV. Way and Simon trade the Killjoys' previously dystopian setting for a modern urban society to play with themes of mindless consumerism and media censorship, which come in the forms of twin TVs labeled 'MOM' and 'DAD' while Ramones albums fade out of existence.
Yes, Way and Simon mourn the disaffected and the downtrodden using all the classics: a bullied kid framed by a school-yard fence, an inmate kicking and screaming down the hallway of a mental institute, a depressed loner sleeping on a worn couch. It's social commentary by way of every 14-year-old alt kid's bedroom wall, without the winking self-awareness that's needed to get away with such cliched sentiment. As you might expect, teenage angst is the order of the day here.
Gerard Way and Shaun Simon fill their dense script with gritted teeth, suppressed emotion, and sudden outbursts of violence. The themes of doomed romance that have popped up time and time again throughout Way's musical and writing career are once again at the forefront. Bittersweet scenes of doomed young lovers work both narratively and thematically to provide the emotional core of Milligram's journey, giving a convincing reason for his downward spiral and future journey.
Away from the drama, there is a lot of fun here. Warring bands of Killjoys are a wonderfully eclectic bunch, evoking the colorful gangs of The Warriors and Mad Max through a comedic lens. Way and Simon immerse the reader in the world of the Killjoys without much in the way of obvious primer, letting events occur in a mad, dream-like state that is almost heightened if you're coming into this blind.
The creative team runs through decades of American counterculture in 48 pages, creating a real love letter to everything and anything that has ever seemed cool to a teenager. Leonardo Romero and Jordie Bellaire work closely to achieve this distinct look. There are shades of Jamie Hewlett's Tank Girl here, spun through with '50s ray guns and a hint of Cronenberg-esque body horror. This feels like a book built for newsprint, with Jordie Bellaire using clean and saturated colors that seem designed to sink into that thicker, more textured backdrop. Bellaire further emulates that messy process with imperfection: colors bleed through blacks, soak through Romero's purposefully shaky lines and spatter inconsistently across the page.
True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #1 preview
The whole package is solidly lettered by Nate Piekos, who matches the rest of the creative team's dedication to a technically simple time with a font in a hand-lettered style. His narration boxes are filled with an off-white background that, once again, references newsprint and adds just a little visual flair. It's always welcome when the letterer stands up and makes you take notice, and Piekos does an excellent job of that here.
True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #1 is a drama-filled pastiche of the last 60 years of counterculture, wrapped in a nostalgia-inducing package. Make no mistake, Romero, Bellaire, and Piekos' feast of texture, wild costuming, and color over-delivers on Way and Simon's imaginative but sometimes self-indulgent script. One for the eyes more than anything.
True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem #1 goes on sale October 14.