MY HEROES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN JUNKIES / Writer: Ed Brubaker / Art: Sean Phillips / Colors: Jacob Phillips / Cover: Sean Phillips / Published October 10th, 2018
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is the first original graphic novel from the creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Set in their Criminal universe, this novella is a standalone story. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is the story of a young girl struggling with addiction, admitted to a rehab facility against her will.
Ellie is a young girl with a troubled past. Her parents are gone, victims of addiction and a life of crime. She too has fallen to addiction, although she doesn’t view it as a problem. Instead, she sees it as a way to escape the pain of life, romanticizing drug use by artists from the past. She meets Skip, a fellow resident at the expensive rehab clinic. She likes him and he might just like her, but that can be dangerous for them both because Ellie is not there to get better.
The novella opens with Ellie on the beach reflecting back on her life. The story is told as a flashback with Ellie narrating. Along the way, we flashback further to Ellie’s childhood and get brief glimpses of what brought her to this place. In any other story, this would probably become a redemption story as she finally gives in to the therapy and works out her demons. This is not that kind of story. She is not one for redemption. Instead, she is dragging others down with her.
Brubaker’s story is a character study of a life lived in pain. Ellie recognizes that she is not a good person, even referring to herself more than once as a bad influence and evil. Brubaker delves into her past and shows part of what made her this way, presenting both sides of her addiction. She recognizes that she is using drugs as an escape from her life. We also get a brief glimpse into her life from the outside and the destructive path that she is on. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies opens in a fairly familiar way: many stories centered around addiction and rehab hit similar beats. However, the story takes an unexpected turn in the second half and the final pages hit us with a big twist about Ellie and her motivations.
Sean Phillips’s art and Jacob Phillips’s colors create a unique look. Sean’s pencils add so much to the atmosphere and tone. He tells us so much about the characters with a single look. Jacob’s colors take a dark story and juxtapose it with bright colors. Bright pinks and yellows saturate the panels. It’s like the colors you might see when you’re high, when nothing looks quite right or natural. The flashbacks to Ellie’s youth are in a gray monotone, a life before the drugs when she was still discovering the world.
This novella is a story of pain, loss, and tragedy. Ellie romanticizes the past, but we can see how destructive this life has been to her and those she idolizes. Brubaker and Phillips have done so much together that I can’t picture one without the other. It’s a great collaboration between the two of them to create these fantastic, moody, atmospheric books. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is a great standalone introduction to their particular brand of comic storytelling for new readers, but is also a part of their Criminal universe, and they promise Ellie will return.
Verdict: 5 out of 5.
Opinionated geek and writer born in the desert, raised on the beach, and now living in the mountains, Paul is a lifelong nerd who loves Star Wars, costuming, comic books, and all manner of geeky things.