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"There's just nothing special about you.",
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This review is from: The Umbrella Academy, Vol. 1 (Paperback)
A rocker writing comics? What's that about? And, yet, Gerard Way, of the rock band My Chemical Romance, comes up with a humdinger of a comic book in THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE, a wonderfully strange and inventive six-issued limited series published by Dark Horse Comics. It's an auspicious debut, really, and, now, count me as completely sold on Gerard Way, comic book scribe.
So what's this thing about? Well, some time ago, around the globe and in the same instance, at 9:38pm, forty-three gifted children were born to women who had before shown no signs of pregnancy. An extraterrestrial masquerading as a human adopted seven of these children and trained them to save the world. But theirs was a cold and callous father, so it's no surprise that the kids grew up as a dysfunctional family. However, the training took hold and the kids did become superheroes.
But the story really begins years after the team, called the Umbrella Academy, had disbanded as most of the siblings reunite for their father's funeral. I say most, because one had perished (we don't know how), while another is too bitter and disinclined to pop in. During this sad gathering, a world-threatening menace promptly surfaces, forcing these bickering capes to quit the bellyaching and work together...except that, of course, they don't quit the bellyaching.
For those looking for something different, something original and wonderfully off-beat, THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE will fit the bill. I don't know how much of Gerard Way's experiences and life style influenced him in his writing, but his stuff reads as from an askewed perspective. APOCALYPSE SUITE is inventive and surreal and keeps on surprising. For a first-time writer, Gerard writes with startling confidence and with wit and a certain airiness. To quote THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY's artist, Gabriel Ba: "For me, it's not important anymore that it's his first comic, or that he's a big rock star, because the story is really interesting and well told."
Even thru the bizarre takes, Way infuses a layer of complexity and tragedy which grounds the stories. A key moment surfaces early on when eminent scientist and entrepreneur Sir Reginald Hargreeves (the alien's guise) impersonally tells one of his adopted daughters, "There's just nothing special about you." This heartbreaking indictment would have devastating repercussions years later for the Umbrella Academy. By the way, Sir Hargreeves is so detached that he tends to refer to his children as Numbers One thru Seven. Likewise, he insists that his children call him The Monocle, instead of "dad." Dang, that's cold. You could see why the kids grew so messed up.
Way peppers his story with a diverse cast of personalities. I have my favorites. How could you not dig Spaceboy (Number One, and team leader), whose head years ago had to be transplanted onto a gorilla's body. Or the time-travelling boy (Number Five) now forever stuck at the age of ten? Or Rumor (Number Three), who has the neat ability of telling a lie ("I heard a rumor...") and have it come true. These characters happen to inhabit a quirky world in which apes have gained intellect and where supervillains are regularly featured guests on television talk shows. Man, I love it!
This trade comes with very decent bonus material: the intro written by Grant Morrison, who is a huge influence on Gerard Way; an afterword by Dark Horse Comics editor Scott Allie; rough concept designs and bonus art by Ba, cover artist James Jean and, yes, by Gerard Way, himself a graduate of New York's School of Visual Arts (although his stuff here is pretty sketchy); and two out of print short stories - the two-paged online teaser "Mon Dieu" and the 16-paged Free Comic Book Day story "...But the Past Ain't Thru With You."
A bit now about the artwork, because Brazilian illustrator Gabriel Ba's significant contributions shouldn't be neglected. Dude's style is expressive, angular, and semi-exaggerated; it deftly captures the off-kilter essence of this comic book. Dave Stewart's colors complete the visual look, while James Jean's covers are terrifically evocative (and not at all reminiscent of Ba's artwork, but it works). All in all, a near perfect storytelling team. I hope they stay together for more UMBRELLA ACADEMY stories (although rumor has it that cover artist James Jean might be simply too busy to stick around for future issues).
THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY is off to a roaring start, garnering props left and right from fans and critics. If you like being nudged off your comfort zone, then give this one a try. This is simply too good to pass up. The cheery news is that Way is chock full of ideas and has promised a limited series per year for the next busload of years. So, me, I'm desperately waiting on the Academy's next set of adventures, projected to be a 6-issue mini-series titled THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS.
And, by the way, Gerard Way's rock band isn't bad, either.