The Umbrella Academy: How Far Gerard Way’s Comic has Come

Warning: Mild Spoilers Ahead

As someone who spent their teens wearing too much eyeliner and listening to ‘The Black Parade’ on repeat, I have enjoyed the smugness of being able to say that I read The Umbrella Academy before it became a Netflix sensation. The last couple of years have been a rollercoaster for retired emo kids like myself. After years of rumours that The Umbrella Academy would be adapted into a film, we finally got the confirmation in 2017 that it was becoming a live-action series. This excitement was doubled by the 2019 announcement that My Chemical Romance were reuniting, and then tripled by the release of the much anticipated third Umbrella Academy novel. So I thought I would use this opportunity to discuss how far this unusual comic has come; a chance to take a look at where it all began, share my opinion on the Netflix series and review the latest book Hotel Oblivion.

The Netflix show has drawn huge popularity since its release last year, but lots of viewers are still unaware of this strange story’s origin. Based on the graphic novel by My Chemical Romancefrontman Gerard Way, the plot follows a dysfunctional family of superheroes who struggle to put their differences aside in order to save the world (often more than once). While fans of the show have often praised the originality and quirkiness of the writing, I think many would be surprised by just how bizarre the comic actually is.

Apocalypse Suite was the first book, which received impressive critical acclaim without ever really breaking its way into the mainstream. I first read itwhen I was fourteen, a time when rock bands were my reason for living. I had to consume everything Gerard Way created in order to uphold my superfan status. The comic did not disappoint me. Way’s creative genius was as strong as in his music. In fact, The Umbrella Academy felt like an extension of one of his concept albums. The influence of Grant Morrison was clear in Way’s unconventional narrative and Gabriel Bá’s stunning, gothic art style. At the age of fourteen however, my review would have been more along the lines of, ‘Dude, it’s so cool.’

I remember turning to the first page and being confronted by Bá’s drawing of a giant space squid being knocked out by an atomic flying elbow. It is in this moment that the seven members of The Umbrella Academy are born. Neither the squid nor the elbow have any correlation to this moment, nor are they ever mentioned again. This sets the tone of things to come.  

This absurdity is lacking from the Netflix series. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the show. The cast are brilliant, the action scenes are stylish and the soundtrack is bursting with personality. I was also happy to see the second series embrace the whimsy of the comics more than the first, but I do feel the script has been somewhat ‘normalised’ to appeal to a wider audience. This is understandable, and I don’t doubt that giant CGI space squids would probably up the budget. But for me, something is missing. If you enjoy the eccentricity of the show, then I would 100% recommend giving the comics a try. If you think the show’s weird, then the comic is Alice in Wonderland wandering into a Salvador Dali painting after eating too many bath salts.

The show merges the plots of the first and second novels together, which leaves the future unclear and its relationship to the comic strained. While the book doesn’t fully reveal Number Five’s backstory or relationship with time travel until the second volume, the show covers most of this in the first series. This has left the second series with little source material to go off and the characters now feel almost opposite to the ones Gerard Way created. While the Academy of the comics are dark, complex and often unlikeable, the protagonists of the show are becoming closer and closer to traditional comic book superheroes. Hotel Oblivion pushes the books and Netflix series even further apart.

Hotel Oblivion once again begins with the Umbrella Academy scattered. As the events unfold they gradually come back together, perhaps stronger than ever. At the heart of this volume is the titular Hotel, a prison that holds all of the Academy’s defeated villains, hidden away in a pocket dimension. It’s hard to tell at this point whether the show is going to touch on this or go in a different direction, especially considering it hasn’t featured the old villains at all. I can only say I hope so because I loved this book. Like its predecessors, Hotel Oblivion is slow paced and the overarching plot doesn’t make itself known until the end when all the pieces finally fit together. We see a different side to the characters while the story cleverly ties up loose ends from previous books. And the best part, it ends on a major cliffhanger that leaves the future wide open. I won’t give anything away, but it’s a real humdinger.

The Umbrella Academy has been a part of my life for a long time, and it’s been exciting to see it flourish into what it’s become today. The comic that once made me look a geek is now a popular talking point. With the success of the show and the promise of another graphic novel in the pipeline, the future of The Umbrella Academy looks bright. But it’s important to remember that its successes can be attributed to one man, a kid from New Jersey with a big imagination. After achieving fame with his band and a double platinum album, Gerard Way decided to revisit his first love: comic books. And we are so glad that he did.

One comment

  1. Impressive! Thanks for the post.
    King regards,
    Harrell Dencker


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