Author: Gerard Way
Comic Art/Collector Edition Cover Artist: Gabriel Ba
Colours: Dave Stewart
Series Cover Artist: James Jean
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Date Published: 2007
In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-seven extraordinary children were spontaneously born by women who’d previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, “To Save The World”.
These seven children form the Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world.
With such a boldy artistic cover and an interesting blurb, ‘Umbrella Academy’ was a very easy choice to read. The production of ‘Umbrella Academy’ was met with some skepticism because of Gerard Way’s involvement, who is also a band member of ‘My Chemical Romance’. Many celebrities, actors and muscicians have become interested in the comic book industry lately due to its rise in popularity and the fact that it is suddenly considered ‘serious fiction’. Yet many have failed to really bring anything of merit to the table other than publicity.
‘The Umbrella Academy’, as mentioned above, is the story of seven children with extraordinary powers and their struggles in adult life to deal with their roles in society as well as within their loosely termed ‘family’. The ‘Apocalypse Suite’ contains six amusingly titled chapters:
- The Day The Eiffel Tower Went Berserk
- We Only See Each Other At Weddings And Funerals
- Dr Terminal’s Answer
- Baby, I’ll Be Your Frankenstein
- “Thank You For The Coffee”
- Finale Or, Brother And Sisters, I Am An Atomic Bomb
There isn’t a real main character, rather the whole group shares the role in varying degrees. However, most of the plot is driven by Vanya, the only child who hasn’t received any actual special powers from her spontaneous birth.
Part of the problem with Umbrella Academy is that we are expected to fill in massive blanks. Though being spoon fed a storyline (like Bite Club) is not preferential, neither should the reader be expected to grope the plot threads together based on fragmented clues. The story leaps around incredibly fast and the setting isn’t ever actually explained directly. Its almost as if Gerard has presented a series of ongoing situations the reader views, rather than a narrative. Instead of fleshing these situations out, the reader is meant to glue them together with our prior knowledge of comic book genre cliches. The reader has to accept things as is and create reasons why your average bystander wouldn’t be worried by a flying monkey passing by. Some readers may really enjoy this fast paced, no explanation style. If it was skillfully handled, perhaps so, but this aspect makes it extremely difficult to merely absorb what is actually going on.
‘Umbrella Academy’ suffers from ‘telling, rather than showing’. We are aware that the group suffers from deep psychological trauma based on their relationship with father figure Reginal Hargreeves – we are actually told by the characters themselves after Hargreeves is dead. If we were shown scenes that exemplify Hargreeves callousness, we might feel some kind of empathy or understanding towards the situation. Another example is when a character is murdered (their brain is violently blown out the back of their head), yet despite the terrible way this occurs there is little emotive response. Why would I care whether this character is murdered, when I don’t know hardly anything about them that might inspire a connection? Because of this lack of emotional connection this murder becomes nothing more than a show of blood and guts, rather than the gritty shock intended.
Gabriel Ba’s drawing style is especially suited to the geometric and shadowed shapes of the ‘Hellboy’ series. For the most part his drawing skill is well suited to ‘Umbrella Academy’ and executed cinematically. However, Dave Stewart’s deep, flamboyant colours save Ba at times – particularly in the smaller head shot panels. The series covers by James Jean are little masterpieces, as is the collector edition cover by Ba (shown above).
There were some great touches to the comic though, such as the witty chapter titles mentioned beforehand, which really set an interesting atmosphere to every chapter. The mad Conductor character and the concept of the murderous Orchestra was the highlight of ‘Umbrella Academy’.
The forward and afterward only served to annoy me further, given that the authors didn’t explore anything objectively nor offer background information about the themes and inspiration of Umbrella Academy. Instead we get the drawer gushing about the apparent uber depth of Gerard Way’s characters and story. These passages serve little more than being a back patting extravaganza. As a side note, there is also a section that includes short stories and character sketches.
‘Umbrella Academy’ leaves the audience with one undeniable conclusion – Gerard Way’s vibrant creativity and talent. To say that he wrote ‘Umbrella Academy’ whilst touring with My Chemical Romance is an incredible achievement. Though he lacks some of the basic (yet harder to grasp) writing skills, he still has the great ability to simply imagine. Hopefully he will continue to pour his energy into the comic book industry.
Ultimately, ‘Umbrella Academy’ fails to deliver and from my point of view will be remembered as a comic whose ideas were actually better than the realisation of its concept. For those interested in Gerard Way, Gabriel Ba or comics in general this could be worth reading, but for most audiences should probably be given a miss.
♥♥ – 2/5