In July 2020, Gerard Way made a promise to everyone who had ever ink-stained their hands with Killjoys comics. With The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys: National Anthem, Way and co-creator Shaun Simon guaranteed a Killjoys story unlike anything we’d seen before. And holy moly, motor babies—they certainly delivered in issue one.
Ten of the 44 pages of the inaugural issue are currently available for preview on the Dark Horse Comics website. However, Alternative Press was given early access to the full issue before its Oct. 14 release. We read the debut issue so we could give you an idea of what to expect. Be warned—and stoked—this is a story that will truly challenge everything you think you know about the Killjoys.
At first, National Anthem seems to offer all of the familiar weirdness and ultraviolence we’ve come to expect from Way and Simon. The issue permeates with laser beams, blood spatter, cathode-ray tubes and zombie apparitions. There are car chases and shootouts a plenty. The neon locks of hair and graffiti-coated-everything all scream Killjoys.
There are visions of the gross and the spectacular. Gun-armed, drooling slug-human mutants (who strongly resemble Frank Miller’s Mutant Gang in The Dark Knight Returns) stroll through convenience stores. And the gangs of Teenage Exterminators will spark your imagination like Pop Rocks being poured into the crevices of your neocortex.
Imagine visionary auteur Wes Anderson coming up with his versions of the eccentric street gangs from the 1979 cult classic The Warriors. Add the style of a Guy Ritchie crime flick and douse it with the warped morality of A Clockwork Orange. Issue one’s introduction of the Teenage Exterminators feels like the most iconic moment of a ’70s exploitation movie. In a year that has forced us all to stay home and sanitize everything we touch, hyperviolence is a liberating treat.
But this series isn’t all bandit masks, exit wounds and rebellion. Underneath all of the spray paint lies a textured meditation of dissatisfaction and the incessant buzz of spiritual unrest. National Anthem feels like The Matrix with its coding dyed bright pink by a bottle of Manic Panic hair dye. There is an unnerving feeling that pulses through its pages, plagued by unreached potential and the sting of compromise. It forces you to confront that part of yourself that feels haunted by who you used to be. National Anthem is a threat to your accountability for your own ideals and idealism, making you question your own complacency.
The duality of the series’ lead protagonist is at the center of all of the action as well as its existential dilemma. Mike Milligram is a reckless, teenage-eternal antihero, entirely unrestrained and divorced from a sense of his own mortality. His alter ego, Michael Morris, is Milligram’s polar counterpoint. Lulled into a state of submission by the blistering glow of a television set, Morris is merely getting by. His Analog War days are suppressed by the monotony of a grocery store job, pacified by network programming. His only tether to rebellion comes in the form of an obsession with the Ramones.
But much like John Carpenter’s sci-fi horror classic They Live, the shiny veil that separates reality from truth becomes punctured. Morris begins to see things for what they are. He chats with hazy visions of brain-dripping figures from a vaguely familiar lifetime. Morris soon becomes cognizant of the gnarly underbelly of drooling deformities lurking just below the force-fed perception of his own life.
The third act of the first issue is bizarre and thrilling—like a lucid dream submerged in a tallboy of Red Bull. Some of Way and Simon’s most surreal ideas to date begin to take shape in daring new ways. The conclusion of issue one is poetic, invigorating and entirely satisfying. It provides closure to the issue’s story arc while perfectly setting up the rest of the series.
The art of National Anthem also remains reminiscent of the previous Killjoys series but deviates enough to establish its own identity. National Anthem is illustrated by Leonardo Romero and colored by Jordie Bellaire. Romero’s chiseled and defiant linework married with Bellaire’s robust, Pantone-on-acid color pallet is viscerally dazzling. The illustrations blend pop art-inspired charm with the cinder block-tough grit of an ’80s Daredevil title. The entire vibe feels like Daniel Clowes illustrating The Dark Knight Returns—and it’s perfect.
View this post on Instagram
This is your next look at the absolutely incredible art team of Leo Romero (@leo_romero11) on line art and Jordie Bellaire (@whoajordie) on colors. The way the art and color and lettering by Nate Piekos (@natepiekos) all work together in this comic feels really special, and I’m excited for you to experience this whole series. This image is pretty different from the insides of the book, but no less stunning.⠀ ⠀ The book is also currently available for pre-order in shops and online. Take care.
Co-creator and co-writer Simon raved about the series’ artwork exclusively to Alternative Press, stating:
“Jordie [Bellaire] and Leo [Romero] are not playing it safe here, and it’s nothing short of mind-blowing to see. Their work on this book has elevated it far beyond my wildest imagination.”
If the Killjoys’ “art is the weapon” mantra still holds true, consider National Anthem to be a neon nuclear warhead. Fans eagerly awaiting a reference to Party Poison, Fun Ghoul, Jet Star and Kobra Kid may be slightly bummed. There’s no mention of the renowned Killjoys from My Chemical Romance’s Danger Days album. This story is truly something different entirely.
Where Danger Days found empowerment in self-expression and defiance, National Anthem explores a world devoid of individuality with more nuance. Morris’ life is all too relatable. Falling asleep on the couch, bathed in the glow of a late-night test pattern. Getting through life between shifts at a dead-end job. Memorizing minutiae about your favorite band just to feel alive. National Anthem focuses on the aching hums of being obedient to convenience and challenges you to point a laser beam at your own malaise.