Friday, October 10, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #281: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys by Way, Simon & Cloonan

A song doesn't have to mean anything, as long as it sounds good. And some forms of visual art -- a lot of paintings and sculpture -- can do the same thing. But when a narrative form of art takes on the aspects of an elliptical three-minute pop song, it doesn't come out well.

For instance, if you have to check the back cover of a book to find out that the "BLI" organization prominently featured within is actually named Better Living Industries, that's not a good sign. And if you suspect that BLI's female leader probably does have a name -- but the book has forgotten to tell you what that is -- it's also disappointing. That the young heroine doesn't have a name is more forgivable -- Everymen and Everywomen often are nameless -- but it contributes to the general sense that the words are there to sound evocative and interesting rather than actually saying anything specific.

The book in question is The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, a graphic novel out of Mad Max via the famous "1984" Apple commercial. It was written by Gerard Way (most famous from his band My Chemical Romance, but a real comics writer with several good Umbrella Academy books under his belt) and his friend Shaun Simon (another musician-turned-comics-writer), and drawn by Becky Cloonan (whose work I know best from Demo, though she's done plenty of other books). And it is so stylish and besotted with its own language to almost make up for the fact that it doesn't really make sense.

(Apparently, Killjoys is the sequel to several MCR songs; perhaps they explain the world in more detail. Or perhaps we're not meant to ask trivial questions like who are these people, what are they doing, and what is actually going on?)

It's post-apocalyptic, or post-something. BLI rules Battery City, which seems to be underground, and partially or entirely inhabited by robots. (Two "porn droids" are major characters.) It's the usual dystopian hell, mind-control subsection, with a literal dominatrix for a ruler. (One might say this is too much on the nose, but not for a song, it wouldn't be.) Emotion is specifically outlawed in Battery City, in case you didn't get the fact that BLI is eeeevil. BLI has two separate sets of goons for no clear reason: Scarecrows, who seem to be basically normal people in uniforms, and Draculoids, who are possessed by the Dracula masks forced on them.

Outside "Bat City," there's the desert, an anarchic wasteland with only a few settlements and random wandering folks. The supposed heroes, the Killjoys, are murdering teenage thugs who emulate an earlier band called the Killjoys, who supposedly were upright and true and wonderful and all died Fighting The Power. There are exactly as many people in any part of the desert as the story requires at any given point, mobs or stragglers or individuals. There is no where else in the entire world, as far as we can see.

Look: here's some random dialogue to show you what I mean. Like opera, it shows that any idea too stupid to be said can instead be sung:

It's been twelve years since the four-man banger cell gave their colors to end B.L.I.'s white cries. They called themselves Killjoys.

Today the guns don't sound the same, the colors that we now buy, and the clothes are all the wrong size...yet we call ourselves Killjoys.

Empty spaces. Lost traces. Battery City races, getting taller as our desert -- smaller.

Dreams. Visions. Suicide missions. Anniversaries are lies if we forget why the confetti flies.

Add some fuzzy guitars and a backbeat and you'd have yourself something there. As supposedly expository dialogue on page 9, coming from a DJ, it somewhat misses its aim.

As much as Killjoys has a coherent story, it centers on three characters: Blue, one of those porn droids, who wants to save her friend/sister/lover and bring about the fabled robot messiah. The Girl, who was the ward or companion of the original Killjoys for no reason anyone actually knows, and who has the nonspecific Power generally vested in vaguely portentous figures without real names. And Korse, who was a top BLI killer but fell in love Against The Rules. They all run around, along with the various gangs, shooting ray guns at each other and killing a whole lot of people for no good reason, until BLI is sort-of defeated by the power of emotion and music and robots and that kind of stuff.

I can't say that Killjoys will inevitably be disappointing to anyone who isn't a My Chemical Romance fan, since it's impossible to prove a negative. But it's much more like the fold-out in the middle of a concept album than a work in itself, and it never gives the reader enough information to explain itself. Way has done much better comics than this before, and he probably will again. (Cloonan, too.) But they need to remember to tell the story of this book in this book, rather than across some transmedia experience.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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