Comic Book Week: “The Umbrella Academy”

The comic book industry has contributed to the fantasy genre in one way or another, if people are willing to look through mediums. Thanks for the spandex clad superheroes, which make the majority of the titles, the fantasy in contemporary settings has become popular and high profile TV shows and movies have appeared, not to mention the rise of the urban fantasy genre. So as a tribute to this medium, I decided to host a Comic Book Week. Thanks to the gracious ladies at UFL I am allowed to cross post this pet project from my own review blog Temple Library Reviews.

The selections for this week are random, but have one thing in common, namely to entertain in a different set of genre ranging from the weird to the horror and the tragedy and hardships of life. “The Umbrella Academy” is a limited comic book series published by Dark Horse, which ran for six issues and even won an award for best miniseries.

The fact that the man behind the world of “The Umbrella Academy” is Gerard Way, the frontman of “My Chemical Romance”, peaked my attention towards the series, apart from the stylish cover art and the capturing title. Such a transition from medium to medium is not an everyday occurrence on its own, so it is always refreshing to see what a rocker would do given the opportunity. To aid him in the task is Gabriel Ba, one of the most notable Brazilian artists to be published outside his country. The result is a weird steampunk world transported straight from Smashing Pumpkins’ video “Tonight, Tonight”.

The Umbrella Academy is basically the superhero training facility by alien entrepreneur Sir Reginald Hargreeves, meant to save the world from a still unidentified threat. The seven children admitted to the training are spontaneously born children to women with no signs of pregnancy and have developed in time superhuman abilities in different spectrums. Only the Vanya is left without any powers and thus with no respect from her siblings. In time the group has disbanded due to sibling rivalry and dysfunctional relationships only to reunite once their father Sir Reginald has died and new enemies have emerged. The limelight is occupied by the Orchestra Verdammten, musicians with criminal pasts, and Vanya, who under the conductor’s ministrations unlocks her hidden potential and rises as the White Violin. With her ability to combust things by playing her violin she is feared to bring down the apocalypse.

I found the world rather enjoyable and a reference can go out to “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”, both movies and comic books, which have the same although milder steampunk elements. Aliens walk among us such Gustavef Eiffel alongside talking chimps like Dr. Pogo. The setting always contributes to the experience, but in comic books it’s the characters with greatest role. I have to say that unlike most heroes Gerard Way has given powers to the worst of human kind’s personality traits and I can even sense a slight reference towards the Seven Deadly Sins, although it’s still an unproven theory of mine. The most satisfying theme to be explored here is the so called Unsuspected Villain Metamorphosis, where the most unimportant member surpasses the heroes and decides to annihilate them.

Another aspect concerning the experience from reading this series is the art. Although the cover artist is James Jean, whose work is eerie beautiful, Gabriel Ba manages to capture the feel of the story. When it comes to comic books, the visual stimulation of how you perceive a story plays a great deal on a subconscious level. I am not the one to know how one artist’s style is different from the other, but all I can say for Gabriel’s line work is that it resembles an old movie tape. You keep waiting for the boxes to role and the character to turn to life. At least this is how I perceived it. In a way he resembles Mike Mignola for the way he keeps the imperfections in the characters and details and lets his work be more sketchy like unlike the clean and smoothed and greatly detailed practice in comic books like Michael Turner, quite the opposite and yet very satisfying.