Becky Cloonan, Gerard Way, and Shaun Simon’s The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is somewhat of a comics oddity. On one hand, it’s the long-awaited follow up to Way’s breakout comic series, Umbrella Academy; on the other, it serves as a sequel to Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, the final album from Gerard Way’s other major project, My Chemical Romance, a somewhat prominent pop punk band from the early 2000s. Although this cross-media incorporation may seem daunting to some readers, Killjoys reads just fine without any knowledge of the album itself, because most of the important details come out through dialogue and flashback. Instead, Killjoys suffers from storytelling that can at times be too straightforward, often forcing metaphors that don’t hold up to multiple readings.
Let me explain. The comic’s narrative is split among three central characters, all struggling against the oppressive Better Life Industries (BLI) corporation, which exerts complete control over the protagonists through a nightmarish totalitarian police force. Perhaps the most prominent of the three stories is that of “the girl,” the young woman who inspired a group of stylish rebels — the eponymous Killjoys — to stand up against BLI, which ultimately led to their own execution. Years after the Killjoys’ death, the girl finds herself among a new generation of copycat Killjoys, teenagers inspired by the martyred heroes to dress like hipsters and act out against authority. Following numerous attacks from BLI’s police force, the girl attempts to rally the teenagers to action once and for all. Alongside this narrative is that of a robot prostitute, Blue, as she attempts to buy a new battery for her dying lover, Red (also a robot prostitute). Finding herself poor and at the mercy of a soulless, bureaucratic government, Blue tries to escape Battery City — the story’s main setting — to find a new life for herself and her lover. Sprinkled into this plot are also hints of a robot religion centering around a machine god named Destroya. Finally, the third narrative follows Korse, the top Scarecrow — the most elite of BLI’s elite police force — who is also the man who murdered the original Killjoys, as he tries to hide from his employers the fact that he has grown soft after developing feelings for someone. As a side note, this character bears a striking resemblance to Way’s main influence, Grant Morrison, who portrayed the character in a music video.
Although these plots may sound intricate, they’re actually fairly straightforward and even somewhat predictable (which, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing). However, like the pop punk album that preceded it, Killjoys is mostly flash with little substance. There are underlying themes about oppression generated through rigid conformism, but there’s very little beyond that. And any other mysteries about the world are almost instantly answered. What are those weird body bags in the opening panels? They’re body bags for executed rebels. What are the draculoids? They’re undead humans controlled through creepy masks. Why do the new Killjoys dress the way they do? They just think it looks cool. What is the Phoenix Witch? She’s a lady in feathers and a hockey mask who can also turn into a bird.
Although the book is certainly weird, most of the points of difference between our world and the fictional world are explained away, often very simply. There’s rarely a sense of mystery that gives readers the notion that the world is larger than what’s shown. This combined with the straightforward plot makes Killjoys into something of a simplistic read. That’s not to say that Killjoys isn’t a good comic. It’s certainly better than most. But I would have loved it at fifteen, when the idea of rebelling just seemed natural. Now that I’m older, the story reads as sound and fury that doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said by books like Beta-Testing the Apocalypse or stories out of 2000 AD.
However, that’s not to say that the book isn’t worth reading. In fact, the art is where the book excels. In the hands of any other artist, I probably would have passed on Killjoys after the first issue. But Becky Cloonan instills the fictional world with so much life that it’s difficult to pull yourself away. For those unfamiliar with Cloonan’s work, she has a very soft style with heavy lines. Her characters generally have large eyes and handsome features. And in a book where lasers are constantly firing, Cloonan does an excellent job keeping the action clear and interesting. Each character is designed to be recognizable, and that serves as one of the book’s greatest strengths. And without Dan Jackson’s bold coloring, Killjoys would definitely lack its youthful energy. I especially love the stark contrast between BLI’s monochromatic police state and the Killjoys’ flamboyant hair and clothing.
As I said in the opening, Killjoys isn’t necessarily a bad book. It’s a good book, but it lacks the depth that would propel it to being an excellent book. Cloonan’s art is definitely the strongest part here. But if you plan to pick it up because of Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, Umbrella Academy would probably be a better choice.
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