My partner and I have been enjoying the Netflix adaptation of The Umbrella Academy, the comic book series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. It’s a fun ride, the show, reveling in its chaotic, irreverent energy. We’re it. And it finally made me want to pick up the source material, which I had been aware of for ages but never really felt compelled to read.⠀
The show and the comic are definitely different beasts, though, similar only in the way they both embrace the extravagant essence of the story. The show is bolstered up by the performances of its actors, who clearly seem to be having fun with their roles. The comic takes delight in the sheer fact that it is a comic, convoluted connotations and all.⠀
It goes like this:
In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-three 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 once again.
This was Gerard Way’s first mainstream comics project and his enthusiasm for the medium is apparent in the way he wholeheartedly embraces its inherent anarchic nature. There’s no gentle, gradual introduction to the world and the characters that fill it. You’re simply thrown into the deep end, and are expected to keep up. The Eiffel Tower is attacking Paris! The Umbrella Academy is coming! There’s a monkey! Now we’re in space! Back on Earth! In the future!⠀
It’s fun, if a little disjointed. You definitely get the sense that Way is heavily inspired by the Grant Morrison’s earlier, more psychedelic work — and, honestly, who could blame him? The similarities here are mostly superficial, though: we get the liveliness and playfulness, but lack the compassionate core that drives most of Morrison’s work. It’s a cold story. Still — Way’s talent is evident (Morrison would eventually take him under his wing of sorts) so perhaps the series only gets better in its subsequent volumes.
Gabriel Bá does the art and will get no complaints from me. I love his work and style in general, and here he channels Mike Mignola — another favorite artist — at his most playful. The book just looks effortlessly cool. And as much as I enjoy the show I do wish it had implemented more of the comic’s aesthetic. Bá’s designs are just more fun, especially in the case of Luther (known mostly as Spaceboy in the comics), because the rubber suit of the show just doesn’t work at all, a fact I never fail to mention anytime the character walks on screen.⠀
(Speaking of the art: they got the inimitable James Jean to do the covers, which is always an excellent idea.)