The Umbrella Academy

by Alan Rapp on February 27, 2008

in Comics

“Forty-three extraordinary children were born to mostly single women, who had shown no signs of pregnancy, in seemingly random locations around the world.  The children were either abandoned or put up for adoption.  Enter Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a the Monocle, world renown scientist and wealthy entrepreneur…  For reasons unknown Sir Reginald set out with his bodyguard Abhijat aboard his private vessel The Minerva, rumored to be powered by the remains of King Amen-Kharej IV.  Using methods undisclosed, he sought to track down and adopt as many of the children as he could.  He only found seven of them…

umbrella-academy-apocalypse-1-coverThe first issue, “The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk,” gives us the brief background of Sir Reginald before jumping into one of the team’s early adventures against Zombie Robot Gustave Eiffel (that’s right folks, the guy who built the Eiffel Tower has been living inside as a robotic robot zombie for years waiting for his opportunity to launch the Tower into space! – oh, did I mention that the Eiffel Tower is really a spaceship!!).

From here we jump 20 years into the future to the members of the long disbanded team who learn of the death of their mentor.  00.01 – Space Boy, the team’s leader, returns from his post at the moon for the funeral only to discover one more surprise – 00.05 has returned un-aged from his long disappearance with a terrifying tale to tell.

A great first issue that flushes out some of the characters, their origins, and the dynamics of the group while still moving on at a fun and brisk pace that isn’t lost under heavy narrative or exposition.

[Dark Horse, $2.99]

umbrella-academy-apocalypse-suite-2-coverIssue #2, “We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals,” brings other former members home including 00.03 – The Rumor, 00.02 – The Kraken,  and 00.04 – Seanace.  00.05 informs the team of his journey through time and the disatrous future which awaits them – the end of the world is coming!  The team also deals with the burial of Hargreeves and the return of the “Terminauts” – robotic minions of one of their former villains, Dr. Terminal programmed to return for mayhem if the team ever reformed.

A second major story is also begun.  We also learn of the seventh child, Vanya, who was largely dismissed and ignored for her lack of super-powers, is given an opportunity to use her musical ability and join The Orchestra Verdammten (the finest musicians in all the world, all of whom are madmen and murderers) which are set to perform a unique piece of music called “The Apocalypse Suite,” which if played in the right key and tempo, can destroy the world.  So, how exactly is it different from an Ashlee Simpson CD?

[Dark Horse, $2.99]

umbrella-academy-apocalypse-suite-3-coverIssue number three, “Dr. Terminal’s Answer,” finds the newly reformed, but mightily dysfunctional team, taking on the Terminauts which are destroying a nearby carnival.  Vanya’s attempt to reconnect with the family during the battle only leads to more hard feelings and her acceptance to join in the playing of “The Apocalypse Suite.”  We also learn that 00.05 is stuck in time, not aging at all, neither growing or dying, perhaps forever remaining in the body of a ten-year-old child.

Once again we get flashbacks to an early battle which tell us some more about our current characters.  The flashbacks in the previous issues told us much about Vanya and her detachment to the others.  This time we get a terrifying memory from Rumor’s past which causes her to freeze up during the current battle.  The team wins the battle but not without casualties, and Kraken’s words to Vanya, it seems, may endanger all of their lives.

A good third act, though not quite as strong as the first two issues; there’s plenty here to enjoy.

[Dark Horse, $2.99]

umbrella-academy-apocalypse-suite-4-cover“Baby, I’ll Be Your Frankenstein” (set just two days before the Apocalypse) begins with a memory of Vanya’s lonely childhood and ends with her transformation into the White Violin, and the deadly force of her new powers unleashed.

More than any issue of the series this one belongs to Vanya and her place in the world as she finds her power and her purpose (sure, she goes insane as well, but life’s full of little consequences).

From the early fear of herself to her fearless embrace of her dark destiny this is the issue where everything changes.  And the final bloody scenes where Vanya’s power, released through music, promises plenty of action still to be told over the series final two issues.

The issue also includes two separate interludes.  00.05 and Pogo scour the city for the real cause of the impending doom, and the other members of the team quibble over past arguments and disagreements.

[Dark Horse, $2.99]

umbrella-academy-apocalypse-suite-5-cover“Thank You For the Coffee” opens with a humorous retelling of the bloody events from Costello’s diner as a traumatized waitress recounts the bloody battle between 00.05 and Pogo and assassins sent in odd costumes.  The final reveal shows the blood soaked diner, bringing reality instantly back into focus.

Back in the mansion 00.005 finds Hargreeves’ monocle which gives him insight into the truth of things, including Pogo’s past, as the Rumor and Spaceboy reconnect on a rooftop downtown.

The issue is almost concluded before we see the first appearance of Vanya, now the White Violin, and her fellow musicians, who have made the journey to the Umbrella Academy.  With a single note Vanya unleashes he power and explodes every window the building, but her encore is much bloodier as the first member of the family falls at the hands of the once harmless musician.  A nice kick in the gut to race us towards the sixth and final issue…

[Dark Horse, $2.99]

umbrella-academy-apocalypse-suite-6-cover“Finale, or Brothers and Sisters I am an Atomic Bomb” concludes the series with a bang.  Vanya and the Orchestra Verdammten have begun the Apocalypse Suite as the team breaks end to stop their former sister from bringing about the End of the World.

Aside from a brief intro recounting the events (and including 00.05 description of what Vanya has become) and epilogue wrapping the the series, the entire issue focuses on the battle which gives 00.04, The Seance, a chance to shine for really the first time, Vanya the chance to silence another member of her former family, and 00.05 the opportunity to do what must be done.  The bloody action, as it has been in previous issues, is somehow both over the top and emotionally charged at the same time and includes a terrific line from 00.05 seconds before the end of the world that made me laugh out loud and reminded me of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s glory days on Amazing Spider-Man.

As to who wins, who survives, and what happens next, well, I’m not going to spoil that for you.

[Dark Horse, $2.99]

Aside from great storytelling and darn good art, each book is filled with terrific little extras including the Monocle, Vanya, and Dr. Terminal’s take on each of the seven heroes, letter pages, humorous notations, excerpts from Vanya’s autobiography, the “Encyclopedia Umbrellica,” the history of Stradivarius and Vanya’s violin, and oddly interesting factoids (issue #3 includes a table at the end on “Estimated Amusement Park Ride-Relate Injuries”).

The amount of character building and plot, amazingly enough, never seems forced.  These books are good, and even better – they’re FUN!  Gerard Way has delivered an unique vision filled with dysfunction, high adventure, and dark comedy.  Mini-series come and go, but here is one that will stick with you.  Although the series has ended Way and Dark Horse have expressed interest in bringing the characters back in a similar format in the future.  I hope so, because for half a year this was one of the best comics out there, and I want more.

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