You don’t have to be a My Chemical Romance fan to appreciate The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, but it probably helps.
The comic is a literary sequel to Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, MCR’s 2010 studio album. It continues the story seen in the two videos from the album, “Na Na Na” and “Sing.” Those videos introduce the Killjoys, a group of four masked rebels in a dystopian California who fight against the agents of the Better Living Industries (BL/ind) corporation which seeks to create a world of mindless conformity by removing all individuality from its citizens. The Killjoys die to protect The Girl from BLI forces, sacrificing themselves for the freedom of this orphan child they had sworn to protect.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys opens some years later; the Killjoys have become a legendary memory, both imitated and mocked, and The Girl is now a teen, wandering the desert alone with her cat. She is a target, not only of the BLI agents, but also of the “new” Killjoys, the desert dwellers who want to use her and her perceived legacy to further their own crusades. Entwined with The Girl’s story are the stories of two others – Blue, a porno-bot seeking to save her friend and herself from BLI’s recycling, and Korse, the S/C/AR/E/C/R/O/W agent who destroyed the original Killjoys, but who is no longer the man he was then.
At its heart, Killjoys is a story of growth and evolution, of finding your own inner strength and of rejecting expectations in order to create your own story. Each character is on a transformative journey. While The Girl’s coming-of-age story dominates, the other characters grow and change too, sacrificing parts of themselves to become something new, something better. Change is not easy. Rather, it is a violent insurrection, both birth and redemption require the shedding of blood. Only by embracing the combined forces of creation and destruction can the denizens of Battery City overthrow the corporation to save their own lives.
For an MCR fan reader, it’s hard not to read Killjoys as a kind of emotional autobiography for Gerard Way, especially given that The Girl’s transformation includes a haircut and wardrobe change that very much resembles him. Danger Days was MCR’s last studio record and the first issue of Killjoys premiered about three months after the announcement of the band’s break-up (although the project had been in development since 2009). Certainly its themes of transformation and self-determination echo both MCR’s desire not to be pigeonholed as an emo band and Way’s own creative drive to reinvent himself as a post-MCR artist. However, Killjoys does stand as an independent work, as both a coming of age narrative and a creative apocalyptic tale. Cloonan’s art brilliantly envisions Way’s and Simon’s dystopian world, from the harshness of the desert to the metallic rigidity of Battery City. The art harkens the reader back to the visual elements of the Killjoys music videos, but it also builds a world for the reader who might be unfamiliar with that backstory. It is a strikingly visual work, one in which the art captures the nuances and themes of the text; the monstrosity of the Draculoids sharply contrasts to the humanity of The Girl and the other desert-dwellers, even that of the porno-bots, and the colorful clothes of the desert dwellers separate them from the black and white of the BLI agents.
Dark Horse doesn’t rate Killjoys, but its level of violence and sexuality is not much different from those found in other mainstream comics, making it likely appropriate for most teen collections. Concerned parents might note elements of same-sex sexual and romantic relationships, mentions of legalized prostitution, BDSM activity, as well as plenty of blood and gore. Other potentially problematic issues include government-sanctioned brainwashing and reprogramming and the replacement of a child’s mother with a new “maternal figure” when she fails to follow the approved parenting rules. Way’s comics fans looking for something similar to the Eisner-winning Umbrella Academy may be disappointed, but science fiction and dystopia fans are likely to embrace Killjoys as an excellent addition to those genres. My Chemical Romance fans too are likely to be interested in this continuation of their band’s last story.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys
by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon
Art by Becky Cloonan
Dark Horse, 2014