Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba have come up with what is one of the most original “superhero” series I’ve seen: The Umbrella Academy. It’s a group, all young, who have powers of one sort or another, but don’t look for a Teen Titans type of story. They’re a family, of a sort: their “father,” Sir Reginald Hargreaves, collected them all shortly after birth, intending to create a group of superheroes to save the world from an unspecified threat. After his death, they decide to carry on with this mission — whatever it is.
The dramatis personae, so to speak, for this collection, Dallas, are as follows: Spaceboy (Luther Hargreaves — they’re all “Hargreaves”), whose head was transplanted to the body of a Martian gorilla after a disastrous expedition to that planet — superstrength, of course; his twin brother, Number 5, who can travel through time and is the perfect assassin; the Séance (Klaus), who can contact the dead, and also levitates — himself and other things; the Rumor (Allison), whose words have the power to affect reality — i.e., what she says comes true; the White Violin (Vanya), who presently is recovering from a blow to the head (which is held together with tape right now) after an encounter with the Orchestra Verdammter, which unleashed her power — let’s just say she can make some powerful music; and the Kraken (Diego), who’s fairly rebellious and can hold his breath for as long as he wants to.
On the villain side, our two most visible characters are Hazel and Cha-Cha, who are, to put it simply, homicidal maniacs who wear cartoon masks and share an overwhelming fondness for sweets. They are agents of Temps Aeternalis, which is determined to maintain the status quo throughout time. (Yeah, there’s time travel involved.)
The story is rather fragmented, but does draw together into a coherent narrative focusing on the assassination of JFK — eventually. But first there’s a dog race (Number 5 loses heavily), a trip back to 1963, a short interlude in Heaven, and a stint in Vietnam before everyone winds up where they’re supposed to be.
This is, in a genre that has gotten more and more surreal over the years, one of the most surreal examples I’ve seen. And it’s dark. Very dark. The Hargreaves “family” is close to being totally dysfunctional — take the interpersonal conflicts in Teen Titans or X-Men and ramp them up an order of magnitude or two. It doesn’t help, of course, that there are two versions of Number 5 in this story, one determined to stop the assassination, and the other determined to stop the first. As I noted, the story is kind of choppy — there’s a lot left to inference,. It’s really cinematic in feel, although the abrupt changes of scene can be disorienting. And blood — lots of blood.
Gabriel Ba’s art is incredibly apt — rough, angular character renderings, and while the layouts aren’t particularly adventurous, there’s excellent clarity in the frames. Ba’s art strongly underscores the characterizations in the script and brings a lot of coherence to the narrative.
In spite of all the blood, I enjoyed this one. Not as much as the first collection, Apocalypse Suite: it’s pretty choppy at the beginning, which is, while part of an overall narrative, really a series of shorts that serves to introduce the main characters. It does come together though, and winds up being pretty powerful.
(Dark Horse Books, 2009)