The Umbrella Academy, Dark Horse
written by Gerard Way; illustrated by Gabriel Bá
TV Tropes; Wikipedia
Before the comic was released, there was a one-page online preview (though I didn't read it til later). There was also a comic released on Free Comic Book Day, but unfortunately it wasn't there when I went to the comic shop that day. (But it can be read for free as a digital comic.) But there was one thing I read before the series officially began: a short story called "Safe & Sound," on Dark Horse's online anthology, "Dark Horse Presents." (Unfortunately, that no longer exists, but you could read the story in the print collection MDHP vol. 1.) Another one-shot story that appeared later on DHP was "Anywhere But Here" (which you could read in MDHP vol. 2). In 2012, there was an animated comic on Geek & Sundry. But the main comics consist of (so far) two 6-issue miniseries:
Apocalypse Suite (2007-08)
Dark Horse; GCD
The series begins with a six-issue miniseries in which we first truly begin to get a sense of the world in which the story is set, and the characters, the history, all that. I think when I first read it I was reminded of things like The Incredibles and The Amazing Screw-On Head. Later I began reading Watchmen, and could see its influence on all sorts of things. Of course Wikipedia could tell you what actually influenced the people who work on Umbrella Academy. Oh, and I suppose I should mention that the writer, Gerard Way, is best known as the frontman of the band My Chemical Romance. I don't know them well, but what little I know of them I like. But that's irrelevant, it has nothing to do with the comic, which is best taken on its own merits, which are considerable, both in the writing and the art style. Oh, and I should say some issues have a bit of additional information at the beginning or end, from various sources (Hargreeves' notes, Dr. Terminal, Dr. Pogo's diary, the City Paper, the Encyclopedia Umbrellica).
It doesn't seem to be clear exactly when the story is set, though it does span about 30 years. (Actually, issue 4 has a newspaper with the date September 20, 2007, but I don't know if that can be trusted.) Whatever, the whole thing has a decidedly retro, sort of Gothic, look about it. Of course, there are references to real history, but plenty that's twisted about it, as well as plenty that's just completely unrelated to reality. In any event, the story is all quite odd and dark and amusing, and in the midst of all the confusion and chaos, there's also a bit of nice, real, human drama.
The first issue gives us some backstory, which it says happened "the same year Tusslin' Tom Gurney knocked out the space-squid from Rigel X-9." In a wrestling match. What happened at the same time, coincidentally, was that 43 "extraordinary" children were born, in random locations around the world. Seven of these children were found and adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a world-famous scientist, entrepreneur, etc. He was also an alien, though I don't think the public was aware of this. Anyway, he went by the alias "The Monocle." Hargreeves concealed the children from the world, but in a press conference he said he'd adopted them "to save the world."
Neither Hargreeves nor the children were seen again until 10 years later, when the young children take on their first mission: stopping the Eiffel Tower, which has gone on a rampage. (You heard me.) It was being controlled by its presumed-dead creator, who was now a zombie robot. And the tower itself took off, as it turned out to be a spaceship. Meanwhile, some time just prior to this mission, Number 00.05 had inexplicably disappeared.
I should mention that Hargreeves didn't give the children names, just numbers. Though they would take on code names: 00.01, the leader of the group, who was strong and resilient, adept at aviation and marksmanship, would be called Spaceboy; 00.02, who could hold his breath and was good with knives, would be called The Kraken; 00.03, who seems able to influence people with lies, would be called The Rumor; 00.04, who has psychic abilities and a morbid temperament, the ability to contact the dead and levitate, as well as telekinesis, would be called The Séance; 00.06 would be called The Horror, but at this point not much is known about him, though it does seem his body contains monsters from other dimensions; 00.07, who demonstrates no particular talents, but who plays the violin, would simply be called Vanya. Well, actually, eventually they'd all (except for Number Five) be given proper names. Spaceboy is Luther, the Kraken is Diego, the Rumor is Allison, the Séance is Klaus, and the Horror is Ben. In any event, the Monocle never treated the children very well, didn't seem to care about any of them at all, with the possible exception of Spaceboy. Vanya, he considered utterly useless.
After the Eiffel Tower incident, the story flashes forward 20 years (to what is presumably the present, or at least the time in which the bulk of the story is set). Spaceboy is stationed on the Moon, at a base called Annihilation Control. His only companion is a robot named Ben. Much has happened in the intervening years, which we see a bit of detailed in newspaper clippings on Spaceboy's wall. After a critical injury years ago, Hargreeves surgically attached Spaceboy's head to the body of a gorilla, to save his life. At some point the Umbrella Academy disbanded. And the Horror died, though the cirumstances have yet to be explained. Now Spaceboy receives a phone call from Dr. Pogo, a talking chimpanzee whose intelligence had been enhanced by Hargreeves, and who obviously cared more for the children than the Monocle himself ever did. Pogo was calling to inform Spaceboy of Hargreeves' death.
As Spaceboy returned to Earth for the funeral, Vanya received a call from someone else, who invites her to audition for first violin in a suite he's conducting. The issue ends with Spaceboy returning to the mansion where he grew up, where he finds not only Pogo, but the long-absent Number Five- who appears not a day older than when he disappeared.
In issue 2, the Rumor- Allison- arrives at the mansion, for an awkward reunion with Spaceboy. She has a daughter named Claire, though her soon-to-be ex-husband Patrick won custody. They're soon joined by the Séance. Meanwhile, a group of robots called Terminauts show up and start wreaking havoc on the City. They're expecting the Umbrella Academy to reunite. Meanwhile, we learn what happened to Number Five 20 years ago. He had travelled into the future, and found he was the only person alive. Hargreeves had always said it was impossible to travel backwards in time, but Number Five spent the next fifty years trying to figure out a way to do it, so that he could help prevent the apocalypse. His return to the past de-aged him, but while he intended to return to before he originally disappeared, he ended up in the present, instead.
While most of the family attend Hargreeves' funeral, Vanya shows up at the Icarus Theatre for her audition. She will be joining the Orchestra Verdammten. The conductor has written a piece called the Apocalypse Suite, which was designed to destroy the world. (Which sort of reminds me of the R.O.D OVA.) This sets up the basic plot of the miniseries, obviously, and now that I've established that, I'd like to avoid any further spoilers.
So... I'll just say that in the end, the world is not destroyed. But along the way, there's plenty of oddness, personal drama, humor, tragedy, character development, etc. It's all pretty incredible stuff, and there's always plenty of mysteries left to be explored at some point. So, it all keeps the reader wanting more. So, it's lucky that there are to be further miniseries....
Dark Horse; GCD
Well, once again we get flashbacks to the past, along with the main story. We get to learn more about what happened to Number Five in the years of his absence. The plot of this miniseries involves time travel, and the assination of JFK... or whatever. I dunno, there's all kinds of drama and weirdness and mystery, as usual. As well as a couple of crazy hitmen called Hazel and Cha-Cha, who were apparently sent by an organization Five worked for while he was missing. And that's pretty much all I want to say, except that the fourth issue has one of my favorite comic book covers ever. (And yes, I am easily amused.)