As Long As I Don’t Wear Tights or Spandex, Issue 10 — THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY

23 Feb

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba (Dark Horse / collected)

I was not the biggest My Chemical Romance fan, but I knew enough about them and liked enough of their music to note around 2007 the news that one of the band’s main talent, Gerard Way, was going to be writing a comic book. It’s not unusual to have celebrities writing comics, but in 99 out of 100 cases, it tends to be someone else doing the writing as a surrogate for said celebrity. But I was intrigued enough to pick up the first issue of that series, The Umbrella Academy, and by the end, I was hooked. By the end of its original mini-series run, I was all in to anything Umbrella Academy.

The setup is a bunch of children are born at the exact same time under mysterious circumstances, and a rich entrepreneur/scientist/alien (the latter part we shouldn’t dwell on right now) named Hargreaves adopts seven of these babies to train them to defend the world from evil. And for a while, everything’s good, until a traumatic event sends all of them on their separate ways. The first mini-series, called Apocalypse Suite, deals with the remaining six children reuniting twenty years later at Hargreaves’ funeral. Back together, old animosities and issues are brought up, while a mysterious group looks to bring about the end of the world. And maybe the Umbrella Academy can stop it if they just get past their own issues.

Best not to ask what happened to Number Six, because I and we don’t know that. He’s not alive, that’s for sure.

This main group of the remaining six breaks down as: Spaceboy (001), the leader now with his head attached to a giant gorilla body; Kraken (002), the brooding muscle of the team; The Rumor (003), who can bring things to life by suggesting it as a rumor; Seance (004), who can communicate with the dead; Number Five (005), who thanks to a time travel mishap has aged in mind but not in body; and Vanya (007), whose musical skills and issues with the group might make her the key to kickstarting the end of everything. They are a fractured odd bunch, and their reunion gets messy once they learn of the imminent world destroying plot. And of course, they all have their own little secrets that could unravel it all if it comes out in the open. Oh yeah, and there are chimps that can talk and act like people, so throw your thoughts of normalcy out the window.

As setups go, Way clearly has a fun and crazy concept at play, and his writing on it is solid enough to let it flourish. Helping is the wonderful artwork of Brazilian artist Gabriel Ba, who’s expert handle of the quirky and outlandish things that happen in the book elevates this to something more than a vanity project. And the first arc is a great example of a team putting together a comic that creates one hell of a template for future adventures. Of course, after Apocalypse Suite, I was wondering what would a future adventure with this dysfunctional group of heroes be?

Not many books have a giant stone John Wilkes Booth kill a giant stone Abraham Lincoln, but not every book is the Umbrella Academy.

After Apocalpyse Suite wrapped around 2008, it was less than a year before the next mini-series, Dallas, arrived, and if you thought the first one was crazy, this one cranks up the madness. Number Five’s time dalliances got him into trouble with some extra-dimensional baddies who want him to do an assassination job: to go back to 1963 to kill President John F. Kennedy! Oddly enough, their JFK never was assassinated, which begs the question of what would happen if Number Five carried out his employer’s operation. The rest of the team has to deal with time-hopping assassins and other twists to stop the assassination, which leads to a surprising conclusion.

And for a long while, there wasn’t much of anything Umbrella Academy related at all. Way worked on with My Chemical Romance and his own solo stuff, dipping back into comics with his own imprint for DC Comics, Young Animal, which included him writing the quirky Doom Patrol. Ba kept busy with titles like the equally trippy Casanova and the slightly more grounded drama Daytripper. Only in the last few months, with the announcement of the series coming out in February on Netflix, and the long awaited follow-up to Dallas, called Hotel Oblivion, currently rolling out as a mini-series with the same creative team of the previous books.

You sold me on this series when you said “Ellen Page”.

The best place to start is obviously with the Apocalypse Suite collection, which the series takes its setup from. While Dallas is also available in collected form, unless you want to get the individual issues, you’ll have to wait for Hotel Oblivion to be assembled into one package. There has been teasing of another Umbrella Academy mini-series, but when that will be is anyone’s guess. My advice is to enjoy the crazy you got.

NEXT ISSUE (hopefully sooner than later): We get into British espionage and covert actions in Greg Rucka’s QUEEN AND COUNTRY!

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