Comic book series, published by Dark Horse Comics. The series is written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá. The cover artist is James Jean.
"The Umbrella Academy" made its debut in September 2007, and I didn't expect much of it. Most of the publicity about it focused on writer Gerard Way, who is best known as the frontman for an emopunk band called My Chemical Romance. Now ya gotta understand -- there are a metric Bolivian buttload of celebrities who write comics. Usually, it's a slumming novelist, an actor, a comedian, a musician. The comic publishers get to promote the book as "Written by Famous Actor X!", and the celebrity gives a few interviews to the comics websites: "I've always wanted to work in comics -- I've got this great idea that you can't write outside of the comics medium. Publisher Z has given me the opportunity to tell this story, and we're going to take it to the top. Oh, and I'm a huge Iron Man fan, seriously." The publisher sells a few extra comics, the actor gets a little extra cash, and maybe a movie studio buys the rights to film it. After that, no one ever speaks of it again.
So that's what I expected from this one. A by-the-numbers comic book, starring a bunch of creepy kids wearing school uniforms and domino masks (they were pictured on all the covers), all designed to appeal to fans of Way's band before its popularity eventually cratered.
On the first page of the first issue, a professional wrestler defeats a giant alien squid monster with a flying elbow drop. This event is so totally awesome that it causes dozens of women worldwide to spontaneously and simultaneously give birth. Many of these women were not previously pregnant.
Seven of the children are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, also known as the Monocle, an arrogant, wealthy businessman and inventor (and an alien in disguise). He gives them numbers instead of names, and teaches them how to be superheroes. At age 10, they travel to Paris to battle the Eiffel Tower, which is running amok and shooting laser beams at people. They soon discover it is being piloted by "Zombie-Robot Gustave Eiffel." ("Maudit enfants!" he exclaims when he's discovered.)
Okay, maybe this wasn't going to be your typical celebrity comic book after all.
In fact, Way was well acquainted with comic books. He'd worked as a comic shop clerk in the past and even wrote a short-lived series when he was 16. He has said that his biggest influence is Grant Morrison, Scottish comics writer behind popular and frequently mind-cracking comics like "The Invisibles," "Doom Patrol," "Animal Man," "JLA," "New X-Men," "All Star Superman," "Final Crisis," and a few dozen other series. And it's clear that one of the lessons Way has learned from Morrison is that there's nothing wrong with a big, crazy, audacious idea, as long as it's a big, crazy, audacious idea that's fun to read about.
And while most of the stories in "Umbrella Academy" take place after the team members have grown up and after their family has been broken up by stress and infighting, there's no doubt that those first few pages of the first issue helped establish Way as one of the most remarkable new talents to work in comics.
Our main characters include:
- 00.01: Spaceboy: Luther is a superstrong hero who has had his body replaced with a gorilla body. He has a home on the moon.
- 00.02: The Kraken: The angry rebel, Diego always seems to be at war with Spaceboy. His only power is the ability to hold his breath for a long time. He likes to throw knives.
- 00.03: The Rumor: Deeply embittered, Allison's power is lying. As in, if she tells a lie, it comes true.
- 00.04: The Séance: Morbid but good-natured, Klaus is a telekinetic who can speak to and channel the dead.
- 00.05: Just Number 5. He's a time-traveling super-assassin, and he still looks like he's just ten years old.
- 00.06: The Horror: Ben used to have interdimensional monsters living under his skin. I say "used to" because he's dead.
- 00.07: Vanya can't do anything special but play the violin. She's estranged from the rest of the family.
Oh, and Dr. Pogo, a talking chimpanzee who works for the Monocle. Modern society is apparently chock-full of intelligent chimpanzees.
Our first major "Umbrella Academy" series ("Apocalypse Suite") focused on the grown-up Academy after the death of the Monocle. Spectacularly disfunctional, they can barely work together to stop the highly destructive Terminauts, and they're not at all prepared to listen when Number 5 makes his reappearance and claims that the world is going to be destroyed in mere days. Vanya finds herself recruited by the Orchestra Verdammten, a symphony orchestra made up entirely of psychotics and serial killers. They turn her into the White Violin, the world's most terrifying musician, and she begins her plan to destroy the world using music. This series won the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Finite Series/Limited Series.
The second series ("Dallas") features a great deal of time travel, attempts to both save and kill John F. Kennedy, and the foam-headed menace of Hazel and Cha-Cha, the happiest and most deadly assassins in history. Séance dies, meets God (he's a cowboy, of course), and comes back. Number 5 has to fight himself. Spaceboy gets fat. The team fights hopping vampires in Vietnam. Rumor wears a pink pillbox hat.
What's the future hold for the series? Way is working on another miniseries about the team, and it's been optioned by Hollywood for a possible movie. Way and Bá avoided the sophomore slump, which probably means the series will continue as long as they want to work on it. I wouldn't bet on Way becoming a full-time comics writer -- there's no indication that he wants to quit music, which probably pays better anyway -- but he seems to enjoy comics enough that he'll probably keep writing, with or without the Umbrella Academy as his muses.