There are some great things about getting your friends into comics. Not only do I feel joy in spreading the form of comics, but I am also creating another outlet in which to find out about books I normally wouldn’t have. Such is the case of introducing my friend Mike to “Sandman” and him returning the favor with “The Umbrella Academy,” the continuing mini-series by Gerard Way (from “My Chemical Romance”) and Gabriel Ba. So far, there have been 2 six issue mini-series, the first “Apocolypse Suite” being released in 2007 and the second, “Dallas,” just being collected into a trade paperback this past September. I just put down “Dallas” and it was fantastic.
Way has a great ability to create a world. Though the first issue introduces the entire world of The Umbrella Academy, Way’s writing instantly establishes the scene as if it has always been and always will be. The reader is shown a world where the impossible is mundane and the bizarre is celebrated. Led by world-renown scientist, wealthy entrepreneur and secret space alien, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (aka The Monocle), the seven members of the Umbrella Academy were born all at the same moment to women who showed no sign of pregnancy. 43 babies born, only seven are adopted by Hargreeves, each give a number (00:01 – 00:07) and with a special ability to be used, as Hargreeves puts it, “to save the world.”
This is the world of “The Umbrella Academy.” The members are as follows:
Spaceboy (00.01) – the de-facto leader. Some time between their childhood and the start of “Apocalypse Suite,” his head is grafted onto the body of a gorilla. Also lives on the moon.
The Kraken (00..02) – the only one to remain in the hero business the whole time. Acts like a ruthless Batman-esque vigilante. Has a past with Vanya (00.07) and hates Spaceboy.
The Rumor (00.03) – Has the ability to make anything she says true. An example of this is in the first issue of “Dallas,” The Academy is fighting the Abraham Lincoln monument (Not the only time they fight a historical landmark) and Rumor says “Mr. Lincoln, I heard you were assassinated” and *poof* a giant statue of John Wilkes Booth shoots the momument, even uttering the phrase “Sic semper tyrannis” just like the actual Booth did when he shot Lincoln (also an example of the humor of Way)
The Séance (00.04) – Has the ability to communicate with the dead and even channel them. Looks gothic and enjoys heavy recreational drug use.
00.05 (No name) – Vanished at the age of ten and has the ability to travel through time, but only after proving to himself that it is possible to travel back in time over the course of several decades of solitude in a post-apocalyptic future. Currently stuck in his ten year old body, unable to age and also a ruthless killer. His story plays heavily in both storylines.
The Horror (00.06) – Has a monster living under his skin. Currently dead.
Vanya (00.07) – The only member of the Umbrella Academy who appears to have no power. Note the “appears” in that line.
I cannot praise Way’s writing enough. The is something so enchanting about the way he writes. He manages to make his maniacal world appear to also be charming. A great deal of what is good about comic storytelling is seen in his stories. It is clear that Way, as well as Ba, is enjoying the hell out of writing this book. The dialogue is bouncy and has a rhythm to it. This can be attributed to Way’s background in song-writing. All the characters stand toe-to-toe in continual verbal sparing matches through out both stories, which is essential in the overarching story of a family coming together after realizing they were never close to begin with. He also has created some great characters for Ba to bring to life. For such a large cast, everyone has a distinct voice and worldview. My favorites thus far, outside of the seven members of the Academy, have been Pogo, the talking chimp caretaker of the family mansion and Hazel & Cha-Cha, crazed assassins who wear giant cartoon animals masks who only dream of death and Girl Scout cookies.
This is a violent book. There is graphic death within both volumes and several people who revel in destruction and the horrific. The main antagonists of both stories only desire utter chaos and death and they deliver. But its really hard to discredit the work because of the violence. Like Tarantino, the violence is completely over the top. Why merely kill when you can dismember? To that end, since every death is a spectacle, it can be seen as a motif. This is also seen in the restraint shown by Way. There is never really any depiction of the aftermath. The only time a dead body is held on in panel, their death is either alluded to or the way they died is explained, not shown. At most, there are large splotches of blood in place of the innards. Way and Ba manage to keep the story and characters the focus throughout. In a short story in the back of the “Apocalypse Suite” collection, The Rumor has been sawn in half, but demise is only shown in shadows. But, its also hard to be truly disgusted because Ba’s artwork is so beautiful.
This is my first exposure to Ba, but he is definitely on my top 5 favorite artists. His work is not the most realistic depictions of humans (or the several talking ape characters), but he has a way of making his cartoon-like characters look human. He has a command of a vast array of human emotions. But he also has great dynamic character movement. And, as mentioned before, he makes disembowelment look fantastic.
Way teases the entirety of the universe he has created. In the introduction of issue one of “Apocalypse Suite,” he drops that the mysterious births happen “in seemingly random locations around the world.” The origin of Hargreeves still needs to be told. The death of The Horror (00.06) of the Academy needs to be shown. At the past Comic Con, Way announced that the next series will be called “Hotel Oblivion,” which may or may not have been teased in issue three of “Apocalypse Suite.” And there is still the pesky question of what happened to the other 36 babies that Hargreeves didn’t manage to get ahold of for the Umbrella Academy. But the conviction and truth in which Way writes makes the reader believe that this is a fully developed world that they are diving into and that these stories are going to be told. And if the strength of “Dallas” in comparison to “Apocalypse Suite” is any indication, it is only going to get better from here.
The bottom line of “The Umbrella Academy” is that these books are just plain fun to read.
“The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite” and “The Umbrella Academy: Dallas” are currently available in trade paperback at most comic book stores and chain book stores.
All art copyright of Dark Horse Books