Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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Give a Cheer for All the Broken

If you're familiar with comics—and I gather from the response to my posts that not a lot of you are, but I am trying to change that WITH said posts—you, like I, may have heard of The Umbrella Academy. If you're like me, all you knew was that it was written by Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance, and so you assumed it was some vanity project or Black Parade spin-off made up of MCR lyrics. You didn't think it was a real comic. I sure didn't.

I was wrong.

Gerard Way actually wanted to be a comic book writer before he started a rock band; he got a BFA from the School of Visual Arts. And he worked at a comic book store. And now he's written a comic that's won an Eisner (the Oscar of the comic book world—unless that's the Harvey...I'm not sure which is the Oscar and which is the Golden Globe). Anyway, this is all to say that I shouldn't have discounted a comic written by a rock star, especially when he's got James Jean doing his covers.

The Umbrella Academy is the most gloriously cracktastic thing I have read in quite a while. The first issue is called "The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk." It features zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. One of the main characters is a talking chimp named Dr. Pogo. I am not making this up. It comes as no surprise that one of Way's major influences is Grant Morrison.

One day, forty-seven women inexplicably give birth, despite not being pregnant. Seven of these children are recovered and raised by Reginald Hargreeves. They have superpowers! And they're going to save the world! From insane national monuments, killer robots, alien invaders, whatever. While we get a few glimpses of the superkids doing battle, the story actually takes place twenty years later, when they're all adults and separated and basically retired. But then they're forced to be a team again and save the world! There are shades of The Incredibles, except Pixar would not allow this much gore.

Now, the plot is insane, but it works because the characters are so strong, even in the first six issues, which comprise the first trade, The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite. Spaceboy, originally the leader of the group, is trapped in a giant monkey suit (literally) and angsts a lot on the moon. The Kraken has become a hardened vigilante. The Rumor, one of my favorites, is snarky, blue-haired, and not really excited about being pulled back into superherodom. The Séance is kind of a goofball. The Horror has tentacles coming out of his belly. Number Five, another of my favorites, is a badass, time-traveling ten-year-old, so I was bound to love him. And then there's Vanya, who never displayed a superpower, only a talent for the violin. This dysfunctional family of seven brothers and sisters is held together by the mysterious Hargreeves, whose plans for them are not quite clear.

Apocalypse Suite is fabulous. It's exciting and crazy and surprising and hilarious and tragic and affecting, all in the span of a six-issue miniseries. I loved the little touches like the fact that each issue's title was reported as "The Umbrella Academy Featuring X, In," as two of the Xs were particularly awesome. And at the end of the issue, there's a little random fun thing that just adds to the glorious cracktasticness of the whole endeavor. It's a lot of fun.

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas, which has one issue to go, is a sequel miniseries, which surprised me given how the first one ended. But the story follows up on a loose thread from Apocalypse Suite and successfully continues the story of Our Heroes when I thought that would be impossible. I'm glad, though, because there's more story to be mined from the world Way has created, which is weird and wonderful in that it faintly resembles our own but operates on a slightly different set of rules.

The art by Gabriel Bá and colors by Dave Stewart give the book a special look; characters have jagged edges yet evocative facial expressions and the color scheme is constantly shifting to match the tone of the action.

I'd highly recommend The Umbrella Academy to any comic book fan. If you don't read comic books but like weird superhero family adventures, it doesn't require a lot of investment since it's not an ongoing series. I'm excited for the last issue of Dallas to come out (because I want to see how Way writes himself out of, er, [spoiler redacted]), and I hope to see more UA miniseries in the future. Forget your emo rock band, Gerard Way, I need more comics!
Tags: books, comics
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