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Every medium used in storytelling presents its own unique characteristics that can impact the story. In the world of the Fabulous Killjoys, a universe created by Gerard Way of the band My Chemical Romance, the characters exist in song, video, and comic forms. Throughout the run of the story, from its debut in the video for the first single “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na)” to the comic series starring The Girl, the universe is created through colors, aesthetics, clever references and recurring characters, and the use of each medium’s unique abilities to form a complete story and world. The comic itself provides a crucial expansion of the story, and the elements unique to the comic medium are the key to creating the robust universe of the Killjoys. Invoking the use of colorful static imagery, references to other comic entities, a narrative structure, the freedom of comic length, and image-based storytelling, The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys uses the comic medium to expand the story to a complete universe, a feat not entirely possible in the typical musical media of albums and videos.
The world of the Killjoys was first imagined by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon in 2008 during the musical lull between My Chemical Romance’s albums The Black Parade and Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. A mini-series for the comic was announced in 2009, but the project was stalled as the band regrouped and created Danger Days, a concept album in the same universe as the proposed comic book. The universe of the Killjoys was released to the public with the release of “Na Na Na” and its accompanying video in 2010, which introduced the Killjoys: Party Poison, Jet-Star, Fun Ghoul, and Kobra Kid, each played by members of the band. The Killjoys are rebels in a post-apocalyptic version of California in the year 2019 fighting a corrupt corporation called Better Living Industries, or BL/ind. The album creates the world through its first track which features radio announcer and character in the series Dr. Death Defying. The music video for “Na Na Na” provided the first glimpse into the universe, but is limited in its ability to tell the story due to the lack of dialogue and the overpowering musical element.
The album tells the story of the Killjoys and their quest to protect and save The Girl. The album metaphorically chronicles the journey of the Killjoys in a world of censorship where art and rock music are eliminated. The Killjoys, through the album, fight for freedom and create the loud and colorful personas to upset the norm created by BL/ind. The album exists largely as a critique of consumerism, which is best shown through the song “Vampire Money”. The song was written as a reaction to being asked to feature on a soundtrack for a film in the Twilight series, which the band critiqued as being a money-grabbing entity rather than an effort of art (O’Donnell). Danger Days largely exists as a critique of pop culture, and the band achieves this through the construction of an entirely new identity for the band. Although it is their fourth album, it is the first to have a clear discussion of the real world rather than exploring the gothic and romantic themes of previous albums.
Although the album is a concept album in its own right, much of the picture is lost without the videos and personas presented by the band members as well as the marketing surrounding the album’s release. The imagery of the world is key to the characters and story, so the album alone loses much of the staggering importance and commentary of the Killjoys. The videos present a bright and colorful rebellion in the face of a monochromatic corrupt industry. BL/ind and its main city, Battery City, are characterized by clean white walls and uniforms, all with a sinister smiley face logo, an interesting nod to the blood stained smiley face known in Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic universe. The stark contrast between the Killjoys of the desert and the industry of Battery City highlights the conflict between art and consumerism, a large theme of the album.
The videos for “Na Na Na” and “Sing” create the strongest visual accompaniment to the album, bringing the story to a more tangible existence. The videos feature the Killjoys fighting to protect and then to save The Girl from BL/ind and the villainous Korse, an employee of the industry in the position of a Scarecrow. The Scarecrows are presented largely as servants without the ability to make their own choices, similar to the Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow who does not have a brain. Korse is assisted by masked henchmen called Draculoids. The videos depict the colorful and graffitied existence of the Killjoys in the California desert in stark contrast to the crisp white industrialized city. In the videos, The Girl is captured by Korse and brought to Battery City. The Killjoys stage a rescue operation but are all killed. The Girl manages to escape with the help of DJ Dr. Death Defying and his crew. The comic series continues the story of The Girl ten years later.
In addition to the videos, the marketing material works to reinforce the clash between industrial consumerism and artistic culture. Promotional material contained phrases like “Art is the weapon” and “Would you destroy something perfect in order to make it beautiful?”. Other images used in marketing the album included faux-graffitied billboards of BL/ind logos covered with spray painted Killjoys logos.
Although the album and accompanying visuals were the first glimpse into the world of the Killjoys, the media used limit the ability to tell the story. The album is a purely audial piece, and the story is told through metaphors and songs. Without the visuals provided through videos and promotional material, as well as the personas the band portrayed on stage, the story would have been lost. The videos and other visuals create the world behind the music. The videos for “Na Na Na” and “Sing” exist entirely in the desert and Battery City, fully immersing the viewers in the story. However, the visuals combined with the music creates a very limited story. Character relationships, feelings, and titles are hard or even impossible to fully portray without some sort of dialogue or narration. The story is also limited to only two videos. Although other singles were released from Danger Days and Gerard Way indicated the desire to record a third installation of the video series, only two videos featuring the characters were ever released.
The comic medium allows Gerard Way to remedy some of those limitations. The comic book series, featuring six chapters and a bonus mini-comic, continues the story of The Girl with much greater detail. During the course of the videos, The Girl is protected by the Killjoys and highly sought after by BL/ind, but no reason is given for her importance. Taking place ten years after the death of the original Killjoys, the comic series stars The Girl in her quest for revenge and self-discovery. She encounters old friends from the original story, such as Dr. Death Defying and Cherri Cola, and the memory of the original Killjoys is seen as a heroic myth to many in the desert. The comic also incorporates the original story in the form of subtle references to the band, music, and marketing. Original costumes from the videos appear, and scenes mimic shots from the videos. The comic is also able to dive into aspects of the universe that the videos and album could not. For example, the album features a song called “Destroya.” The comic explains that Destroya is a god that the droid of Battery City believe in. The comics feature a side plot of droids to show the ugly truth of Battery City, which is also not included in the original story.
Way’s decision to use the comic medium should not come as a surprise. Before his musical career, he worked in the comic industry. Way loved creating original characters and aspired to include his own creations in cartoon shows or his own line of comics. Following the events of September 11th, 2001, Way quit his job and started the band (“My Chemical Romance Biography”). Although his fame is primarily through his career with My Chemical Romance, his interest in comics never left. He created a series called The Umbrella Academy while the band still existed, and that series is currently being adapted to be a Netflix show (Andreeva). Since the band’s breakup, Way has turned to comic creation as a primary career.
In addition to Way’s personal career in comics, My Chemical Romance had a close connection to the industry and to Watchmen in particular. The band rewrote Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” for the movie adaptation of Moore’s novel, altering the song to fit Moore’s comic (Way).
The connection to Watchmen continues in the universe of the Killjoys. Watchmen is known by the iconic image of the blood stained smiley face, a complex juxtaposition of pleasantness and death. Way uses a similar symbol in the videos, album, and comics of the Killjoys – a crisp, white smiley face to represent BL/ind. The evil corporation is shown as a forced symbol of happiness in a nod to Moore’s work. BL/ind’s logo lacks the blood of the dead Comedian, but the eerie industry forces an uneasy reception to the smiley face.
Way’s love of comics is not the only reason for the continuation of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys in a new medium. The narrative element of comics, including the use of dialogue and narration, is the most crucial benefit of telling the story through this medium. Comics allow conversations to occur, which is difficult for music and music videos to incorporate. The tracks from Danger Days that do feature spoken word instead of music are short and quickly replaced by the music. An audio musical medium without the supplementary videos or commentary cannot include dialogue or narrations to explain the story. An album containing a narrated story, especially a story as bright and vivid as the Killjoys and their tale, cannot exist entirely as a recorded narration. The band would not sell records if an audiobook was released in place of a rock album, and no record label would fund such an effort. A physical medium with the ability to use words and image is key to the story, and the comic medium’s ability to combine words and images presents the perfect medium for the Killjoys.
While the comic medium allows depth unknown to the videos and music, but the storytelling is altered to fit the format. A key part of the story through the album is the use of radio transmissions. The rhythmic voices and inflections are lost through comics because comics lack the audio quality necessary. Storytelling is also limited to static images and short dialogue. The music videos featured complex fight scenes and ray gun battles, and while those exist in the comic, the beauty of the fight is lost without the movement of video and the ability to highlight actions through filmmaking techniques.
The depth of the story through the comics greatly surpasses that of the videos and album due to the length and dialogue. The Girl’s mission of self-discovery is fully developed and the universe and mythology of the setting is explained. New characters present a new conflict to the original goal of the Killjoys, who simply fought for expression. The new generation of Killjoy impersonators is lead by Val, a disgruntled rebellion looking for fights and violence instead of the drive for art championed by the original storyline. The length of the series, in comparison to music and videos which are controlled by record labels, allows multiple plotlines to fully develop. Readers experience The Girl’s journey of self discovery and revenge, the environment of the new rebellion after the death of the Killjoys, the escape and religious awakening of a porno droid from Battery City, and the secret life of Korse within BL/ind’s corporate ranks. If the story was limited to the band’s musical endeavors, the story would have lost its complexity.
Given the state of the music industry, even bands as drastic and extreme as My Chemical Romance have to fit within a record label’s approval. Although awarded a great deal of musical freedom and artistic integrity, the band had to exist within parameters set by executives and managers. This creates limits on the amount of songs on an album, song length, and even the band’s use of profanity. Way’s desire to create this story and tell it as completely as possible was hindered by his career’s parameters. The album cannot tell the story, nor can the two videos released for “Na Na Na” and “Sing.” The control found in the music industry is not found in such extremes in the comic industry. Way’s ability to tell the story was enhanced by the lack of structure and necessary limitations.
The story’s development in the comic is profound. The videos chronicle the Killjoys and The Girl as they battle Korse and BL/ind, eventually losing their lives but giving The Girl time to escape. The videos have one plot. There are characters who appear in the videos and in the songs but do not play any key narrative roles. These characters, as well as new characters, are greatly enhanced in the comic due to the medium’s ability to create a more robust tale.
The Girl’s story is a coming of age tale. While her background remains mainly mysterious, her life after the death of her protectors is explained as she discovers her meaning. The videos never explain why The Girl is so important. Why are the Killjoys protecting her? And why does BL/ind want her? The Girl does not know, but embarks on a journey of discovery and self-development. She cuts her hair and takes up the visual aesthetic of the original Killjoys, learning to shoot and defend herself. She dies in combat, but meets a character called The Phoenix Witch who tells her the story of her mother. The Girl’s mother fought alongside the Killjoys in The Analog Wars, the events that led to BL/ind’s domination of the world. When captured and killed, the mother’s soul traveled to her unborn child. All of the mother’s anger and the method of raising The Girl created a powerful weapon. The Girl is revealed to be the bomb that can stop BL/ind and take down Battery City. She has the power to manipulate electricity. The Girl and the new Killjoys attack Battery City and win, freeing the people and allowing the return of color and freedom.
The comic also introduces a new generation of Killjoys. Val, the leader of the new Killjoys, is an interesting character. Rather than becoming a Killjoy with the same ethics of the originals, he uses the persona to embody his rage and willingness to kill rather than fight for freedom and art. Val would rather kill a person infected by the Draculoid mask than attempt to save them, even when the amount of Killjoys vastly outweighs the amount of Draculoids. He shows no emotion when he loses friends in battle. He criticizes The Girl, blaming her for the death of the Killjoys and antagonizing her. Rather than believing in the afterlife championed by the Killjoys, he believes in death, going as far as to call the Killjoys failures. Val pushes a new form of Killjoy. Rather than champion art and safety is the deserts outside of the city, he wants to take action and attack. Val is cynical and paranoid, fighting for his own survival instead of following the teachings of the original Killjoys, even killing Dr. Death Defying, the main source of communication among the rebellious forces in the desert, because he thinks the radio host is a spy for BL/ind. His mentality does not change until The Girl joins his gang of Killjoys in the attack on Battery City. As she saves the city without firing a single weapon, Val’s skepticism fades and he recognizes his flaws. Val is not seen or heard in the musical components of the story.
The original depiction of Battery City, as seen in music videos, shows the flawed utopia and hints at the advanced technology of the city. The comic expands this by introducing the porno droids Red and Blue. Known only by their colors, the robots have a certain level of free will but still act as servants to BL/ind and the city. Red is an older model whose battery is unable to hold a charge. Blue attempts to save her friend in any way possible; she tries following the lawful procedure to obtain a new battery, but is told that the model is outdated and will be collected for disposal. She then tries to steal a new battery, but is stopped by Scarecrows. The pair then plan their escape from Battery City, but the electrical grid of the city ends. They fear powering down when they reach the line, but attempt their escape anyway. Red and Blue make it to the border of the city, chased by Scarecrows, and Red dies as she crosses the border. Blue survives and escapes into the desert where she finds a half buried mechanical figure, which she recognizes as the god Destroya. Her power, along with The Girl’s discovery of her ability to control batteries, activates Destroya. The robot approaches Battery City and frees all of the robots from their reliance on batteries and electricity, giving the droids freedom to travel beyond the city limits. While the original view of the world shows the sleek femininity of the porno droids, it does not dive into the complexity of the religion and free will the robots experience.
The character of Korse is shown as the villain in the videos, but his characterization is explored as the comics unravel the society under BL/ind. Korse is the main Scarecrow attacking and eventually killing the original Killjoys. As a Scarecrow, he is under the corporate structure of BL/ind, but the videos present him as a main power. The comics humanize the villain and shift his portrayal to a less powerful role. Korse is revealed to be gay and living with his partner. Fearing that his love would turn him into a less effective Scarecrow, BL/ind kills his partner and send Korse to be reprogrammed. Rebelling against the attempt to fix his orientation, which the company considers to be a problem, Korse shoots the woman he sees as his superior. She is revealed to be less than human as she survives the shot and clones of her appear. This woman is the embodiment of BL/ind. The mega-corporation is not a human endeavor, but a tyrannical entity. Dressed as a dominatrix, the woman and her clones attempt to seduce Korse, but the sex appeal does not affect Korse. After destroying the clones, he finds an elderly version of the woman surviving with the help of mechanical parts mirroring those seen on Destroya. She begs for her death, but Korse decides that he is done killing and escapes to the desert. In the continuation of his story, Korse is no longer a villain directly at odds with the Killjoys and The Girl. He becomes a complex character struggling to find his own freedom and escape his role with BL/ind.
The complexity of these storylines is only introduced in the album and accompanying videos. Without the extended narrative medium of comics, the story would remain untold and the world of the Killjoys would be left with unanswerable questions.
The comic medium also allows a visual component not found in other lengthy storytelling platforms like books. The world created through the music videos is so bright and colorful, and leaving imagery out of the story would create a lack of meaning. A major goal of the album is to exist artistically in the face of bland life, and removing the colorful imagery, costumes, and familiarity of characters like The Girl and Korse would defeat the album’s goals. The visual aspect of comics allows the universe to exist beyond the created videos. The stark contrasts between the desert, which is typically characterized as a place full of death, and the city, which is typically lively, emphasizes the role of color and art in opposition to consumerism and government control. If the story existed only in music or text, the visual elements and complexity of the juxtaposition of colors would be lost.
Each medium used in the story of the Killjoys has a key purpose in the storytelling technique, and each medium has its own unique method of reaching audiences. The album and videos introduce fans of the band and viewers of the videos to the world, while the creation of the comic series welcomes fans of this different medium to enter the story. The use of all three media and the strengths of each combine to form a more complete story than any one medium could have produced.
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