William Rosenthal ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Writer
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is perhaps the most popular book you aren’t reading right now. It comes from co-writer, Gerard Way, lead singer of the now broken up My Chemical Romance; this is his second story after Umbrella Academy. Way’s rock star status boosts the title to a mainstream audience. Fans of his music gravitate towards his work, which introduces them to the genre–this is part of the reason Killjoys came into existence.
When I say this is the most popular book you aren’t reading, I refer to his fans’ ravenous attraction to seek out new issues of Killjoys. At my own local store, when I went to grab Issue #1, the owner told me that they were sold out before 2 pm. Other stores I visited had the same problem. They could not keep this book on the shelves.
Killjoys was originally an idea for Way’s band’s last album. Way uses the comic to expand on the ideas and concepts from the music, which not only allows him to illustrate the Killjoy world to a larger, more concrete degree, but fill his fans in on how he perceived his creation. This might have been his intention, but the story of Killjoys–at least from Issue #1– suffers from ambiguous or undefined world logic and rules and poor story-telling.
The reader, from page one, is dropped into this world without any background or set-up. Images are lined up without context or scope, and the crazed DJ, Dr. Death-Defying, broadcasts gibberish across the panels. The protagonist, who isn’t even given a name and is only referred to by her gender, wakes up in a field of body bags somewhere in the desert. There’s also a cat for some reason, and this is only three pages in. Way does nothing to set up his world. In fact, by how hastily and rushed the opening to this world is, the whole thing feels alien and unrelatable, a feeling which persists throughout the book.
It also doesn’t help that the book is deep within an identity crisis, unsure of what kind of dystopian future it wants to portray. From the introduction, it feels akin to Fallout and The Last of Us, where the world is both semi-fictional and post-apocalyptic and the remnants of the past are scavenged to survive. Although, this is then contradicted by the characters. The Killjoys, a faction of rebels who befriend the protagonist, do not seem burdened by a crumbled society; they look like rejected 80s fashion models with dyed, designer haircuts and mismatched, but still appealing clothes. The most noticeable aspect of the characters is that they are clean and attractive–the characters don’t seem at all affected by the desolation around them.
After that scene, the book shifts to Battery City, home of the oppressive corporation/government that controls the society. Battery City is referred to by characters as being an easier place to live due to the presence of BLI, the ruling group. So perhaps if the story isn’t post-apocalyptic, then it might be taking cues from sci-fi works like Blade Runner and The Hunger Games where there’s a stark, economic divide between two classes. This, however, is done away with. There are slums in Battery City that apparently take up a large part of it with a very small population. When the reader’s shown glimpses of the slums, the only people who are shown to live there are two artificial life forms called Porno Droids and an armed guard of some kind. Again, very little context or circumstance about the city is explained by either the characters or a narrator. This part is particularly infuriating since, it just shows up and moves on without introducing any tension, history, or future character involvement. What was the point?
There is a page-long glimpse of the government, BLI Headquarters. It’s depicted as sterile and white, which is a nice contrast to the colorful characters seen in the desert, but it has the same problem as the scene in slum: there is no context or explanation. The BLI is after the Killjoys and wants them dead. But why? Are the Killjoys criminals? Have they upset the BLI? Is the BLI just that evil? We are never given answers.
One of the desert-occupying factions, the Draculoids–people who wear white suites and vampire masks–fight with the Killjoys in this issue, and if you were interested in knowing more about them, then too bad. Draculoids, or Dracs, kill and place their masks on the dead or living to create more Dracs, and that’s all you get to know. Their masks are shown but not explained. Dracs give their victims the choice of accepting their masks or death, but the masks work in death too, so what’s with the choice? Dracs see enemies as giant spiders, but even that is forgotten about. Even their dangerousness is undermined. In one panel, a Killjoy asks the girl why she won’t take out her gun against the Dracs. She responds by saying it’s not worth her time because she only kills Scarecrows, not Dracs. Scarecrows are another faction in the desert, but what did she mean? The Dracs are trying to kill them, but she doesn’t think fighting back is worth it? By her words, she might be inferring that Dracs become Scarecrows, but she still won’t protect herself, or the people around her who literally die in her arms.
For a book where the main draw is the writing, it has some of the most baffling story choices. Nothing is given reason. The book reads like an inside joke: you know that someone, somewhere, understands and finds fantastic enjoyment it, but you just aren’t at their level and feel distanced by it. This is Killjoys. Even as a person who enjoys My Chemical Romance’s music, not even I get the joke, if there even is one.