3.12.2014

The Umbrella Academy (Overview)


Let's have a look at one of my favorite things to appear on the comics horizon in the 21st century, Dark Horse's The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, and Dave Stewart.

Why Dave Stewart, you ask? Isn't he "only" the colorist for the series? It's true. And rightly or wrongly, I don't usually list colorists as co-authors of any of the work I cover. But I include him for the same reason I'd include Todd Klein (letterer) as one of the principal creators of The Sandman, because the work is immeasurably improved by what he (and Stewart on Umbrella Academy) bring to the table.

I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this post and avoid discussing plot specifics. I'll remain spoiler-free, in other words, mainly because while many of you haven't read some of the comics previously discussed, they're old enough where I feel "spoilers" don't apply. I don't know what the statute of limitations is for such things, but I'm of the opinion anything that came out in the 20th century is by this point fair game to discuss without worrying about "ruining the ending" for anyone. But The Umbrella Academy is still a fairly new phenomenon, and the twists and turns of the storylines (collected in the Apocalypse Suite and Dallas trades, as well as a few vignettes at Dark Horse Presents) are a genuine delight to discover on one's own. So all I'll say is, if anything I discuss below intrigues you, do yourself a favor and explore further; this is but the tip of a very deep and invigorating iceberg.

The risk of doing things this way is that out of context, some of this might appear insufferably "cutesy" or what not. The Umbrella Academy is certainly eccentric, but it's a remarkably well put together piece of work. (Two more to come in 2014, as well! Can't wait.) Let's start with the creative team.


When I first heard of this, it was pitched to me as "the new comic from the lead singer of My Chemical Romance." I'd heard of the band but wasn't familiar with them. (Still ain't, except for that one tune over the end credits of Watchmen.) To be honest, though, this pedigree turned me off at first. It's not that I think artists should confine themselves to one medium, just that you never know what you're going to get. Will it be Anna Karina's "Roller Girl" or will it be the usual cross-pollination dreck from J-Lo, LiLo et al.? My friend Mike, though, kept recommending I check it out, and as he and I share a lot of the same pop cultural tastes, I eventually gave it a whirl. After a few pages, it quickly became evident that whatever the merit of Mr. Way's work with My Chemical Romance, this guy was born to write comics. 

My bad, ya handsome bastard.
Apparently, he illustrates them as well, and The Umbrella Academy began life as something he wrote and drew all on his own. But as the project gathered steam, Gabriel Bá and Dave Stewart re-illustrated everything based on his designs and breakdowns. I was unfamiliar with them, too, and within the space of a single issue, I became a devoted fan of all three.

Bá has achieved considerable (and well-deserved) success in the years since TUA first appeared. (As has his twin brother, Fábio Moon, who worked with Joss Whedon and Dave Stewart on Sugar Shock, which, if you haven't read, I just don't know what to do with you.)

Just a couple of images.

Whedon seems pretty busy these days, but I hope he gets around to giving us more of these. (Side-note: I'm a huge Whedon fan. I say this because I did not have the same sort of resistance to his branching out into comics. Partly because his work on Buffy, Angel, Firefly et al. is so obviously comics-inspired, but mainly because there's a guy whose work I'll buy simply because he's involved with it. Which is precisely the (perceived) attitude with which I took exception when I first heard this rock star guy (Way) was doing a comic book, i.e. Oh, all these My Chemical Romance fanboys will buy it and praise it to high heaven, regardless of whether or not it's any good... (huge eyeroll) So, am I a hypocrite? Yeah, probably. I'm a helluva dancer, though, and I know a lot about Sean Connery.)

Anyway, Bá's style is perhaps not everyone's cup of tea, but I think it's just fantastic. 

You can check out more of Brazil's wonder twins at their website.
As for the super-team itself:


here is their abridged origin story (from the wiki:) "In the mid-20th century, at the instant of the finishing blow in a cosmic boxing match, 43 superpowered infants are born to random, unconnected women who showed no signs of pregnancy. Sir Reginald Hargreeves a.k.a. The Monocle: 


an extraterrestrial disguised as a famous entrepreneur, adopts the surviving seven children, and prepares them to save the world from an unspecified threat."

He is assisted in this endeavor by one Dr. Pogo, a chimp with super-intelligence.


It should be mentioned that the Monocle's methods all but ensure the siblings grow up as dysfunctional as dysfunctional gets. It is his (off-camera) death that reunites the team and sets the story (in Apocalypse Suite) in motion.

Each issue of AS begins with a cast-of-characters page that features "excerpts" from one of the other characters' journals or field-notes.

1.

2.

3.


4.
 

5.

6.

7.

Wow, so I guess this is going to be in two parts. I didn't realize all of the above was going to take up so much space. Well, there's your introduction; hope to see you next time for a quick-ish journey through Apocalypse Suite and Dallas.

4 comments:

  1. I think I'll have to hold off for a while on reading this post -- I'd like to read the comics at some point relatively soon, and I think I'd like to do it as fresh as possible.

    So I'll have to return to this post then!

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  2. Well, it took me twenty months or so, but I finally got around to reading these.

    Great stuff! I was resistant to it (for no reason I can figure out) for maybe the first couple of issues, but I ended up liking it quite a bit. It actually kind of makes me want to listen to some My Chemical Romance; if Gerard Way is on point to this extent in his comics-writing, he's GOT to have something worthwhile to say musically, too, you'd think.

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    Replies
    1. (My new avatar seems appropriate here...)

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    2. Yes, the new avatar works well. Glad to hear the Umbrella Academy fan ranks have increased by one. I love this series.

      Loving these put My Chemical Romance on my radar, but I've still yet to take the plunge.

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