Umbrella Academy volume 1: Apocalypse Suite


By Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978-1-50671-547-6 (HB) 978-1-59307-978-9 (TPB)

Superheroes have been around long enough now that they’ve even evolved into different sub-sets: straight Save-the-World continuity types as championed by DC and Marvel, obsessively “real” or realist iterations such as Marvelman,Masked Man, Crossfire or Kick-Ass, comedy versions like Justice League International, Ambush Bug, Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl, Deadpool, She-Hulk or Gwenpool and some truly rare ducks that straddle a few barstools in between.

Cut from the same cloth of Edgy, Catastrophic Absurdism as Scott McCloud’s Zot!, Brendan McCarthy’s Paradax and especially Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Flex Mentallo, the archly anti-didactic antics of The Umbrella Academy offers readers a subtly subversive take on the idiom which impressed the heck out of everybody and lured many disillusioned fans back to the pitifully tired and over-used genre when first released in 2012…

The debut collected volume gathers the initial 6-issue miniseries as well as a 2-page online tease from MySpace Dark Horse Presents and an introductory short story from the company’s Free Comic Book Day issue in 2007.

Once upon a time a strange event occurred. All across Earth 43 babies were unexpectedly born as the result of apparent immaculate conceptions – or perhaps some kind of inexplicable parthenogenesis. The births even surprised the mothers, most of whom abandoned or put up for immediate adoption their terrifying newborns.

Seven of these miracle babies were acquired by esteemed inventor and entrepreneur Sir Reginald Hargreeves. The inventor of the Levitator, mobile umbrella communicator, Clever Crisp cereal, Televator and a process which enabled chimps to speak was, in actuality, an over-achieving alien with a secret plan, and he raised the children to become superheroes to enact it.

He was not a good or caring parent…

The callously experimental family, after a number of early spectacular successes such as ‘The Day the Eiffel Tower Went Berserk’, soon proved to be unmanageable and the Umbrella Academy – created and trained “to save the World” – sundered in grief and acrimony, but not before poor Ben, Number 6 or “The Horror”, pointlessly lost his brave young life, and Number 5 – “The Boy” – took a short trip into the future and never came back…

An utterly dysfunctional superhero team, the children parted, but now, twenty years later, the surviving members gather again at the news that Hargreeves – whose nom de crime was The Monocle – has died…

In the interim, Number 1 son Luther became an off-earth defender and pioneer, but was hideously damaged on a doomed journey to Mars. To save him, The Monocle grafted his head onto the body of a colossal Martian Gorilla, but the “Spaceboy” found it far easier to live alone on the Moon than stay with his saviour and family.

Poor, neglected Vanya however – whose musical gifts Hargreeves deemed utterly useless – became a drop-out and wrote a scandalous tell-all book before becoming a voluntary exile amidst Earth’s lowest dregs…

In ‘We Only See Each Other at Weddings and Funerals’, the disparate clan gathers and Luther discovers The Boy has returned, looking not a day different. He isn’t – but his mind is 60-years old and has experienced horrors beyond all imagining…

Made welcome by technologist, housekeeper and talking chimp Dr. Pogo, Luther is startled by the return of Allison(Number 3, The Rumor). She’s changed a lot since her marriage – although she’s now single again – but Diego (Number 2, The Kraken) and Klaus (Number 4, The Séance) are just the same: physically mature but still completely, scarily demented…

The interment ceremony is a complete fiasco and descends into a brawl, but the savage bitterness the family exhibits towards each other is as nothing compared to the carnage caused by the arrival of merciless robotic Terminauts tasked with stopping the Umbrella Academy reforming at any cost…

Across town, poor forgotten Vanya has an audition with some very special musicians. The Orchestra Verdammten need only the best if their unconventional maestro, The Conductor is to perfectly premiere his latest opus – The Apocalypse Suite

As the reluctantly reunited Academy fall into old habits and dash off to save innocents from slaughter, The Boy drops his final bombshell: in the future he’s returned from, Earth was destroyed three days after the Monocle died…

Built by a long-vanquished foe, the killer mechanoids are ‘Dr. Terminal’s Answer’ to the pesky kids who ruined his plans, although they don’t fare well against Spaceboy, Rumor, Séance and The Kraken.

Dr. Pogo has stayed to examine The Boy and finds him exceedingly strange: a 60-year old mind wearing a 10-year old body that hasn’t aged a single second since it reappeared. There’s even stranger stuff going on which the monkey medic can’t detect, though…

Diego never stopped fighting monsters and has become a darkly driven vigilante, who even now has ignored the flamboyant threat of the robots to save imperilled kids. However, when Vanya – fresh from fleeing the deranged Conductor – stumbles into the conflagration he disparages her; calling her useless, just like Hargreeves used to.

As her strange siblings wrap things up and return to puzzle out exactly how the Earth will end in a matter of days, dejected, rejected Number 7 returns to The Orchestra Verdammten…

Subjected to outrageous experiments in ‘Baby, I’ll be Your Frankenstein’, Vanya is quickly transformed into a finely-tuned instrument to shatter reality, even as Pogo and The Boy stop for coffee and meet time-travelling trouble.

…And at the Icarus Theatre, the once disregarded and discarded White Violin makes her deadly, devastating debut…

At a certain Diner, distressed waitress Agnes tells Police Inspector Lupo how a veritable army of futuristic thugs were reduced in seconds to scarlet shreds and tatters by a little boy who politely said ‘Thank You for the Coffee’ before leaving with his chimpanzee friend. Lupo has endured a long and difficult unofficial association with ruthless avenger Kraken which has kept the city’s worst criminals from running riot, but when the old cop casually remarks that a lot of violinists have suddenly vanished, even he is quite unprepared for the vigilante’s reaction…

The family gathers at the Academy: Luther and Rumor slowly rekindling a long suppressed relationship even as The Boy makes the huge mistake of looking through Hargreeves’ trademark Monocle just as prodigal sister Vanya knocks on the door – with shattering, killing force…

The shocked stunned survivors quickly marshal their forces for ‘Finale or, Brothers and Sisters, I Am an Atomic Bomb’, but even though they achieve some sort of victory and save reality, it’s at a terrible, World-shattering cost…

Following Editor Scott Allie’s Afterword on the trials, tribulations and triumph of working with a big-name rock-star (yes, that Gerard Way: multi-talented musician/writer/artist/designer who once fronted My Chemical Romance…) whilst trying to maintain a comicbook schedule, illustrator Gabriel Bá and the author then reveal a host of production secrets in ‘Designing the Umbrella Academy’.

But that’s not all: the introductory ‘Short Stories’ – with notes and commentary from Bá – follow, revealing a lighter side to the team in ‘“Mon Dieu!”’ and a surprisingly deft surreal murder mystery in‘…But the Past Ain’t Through with You’(first seen in MySpace Dark Horse Presents and Dark Horse Free Comic Book Day 2007 respectively).

Whilst happily swiping, homaging, sampling and remixing the coolest elements from many and varied comics sources, The Umbrella Academy created a unique synthesis and achieved its own distinctive originality within the tired confines of the superhero genre. Maybe because it stylishly combines the tragic baroque tone of a La Belle Époque scenario with an ironic dystopian fin de siècle sensibility and repackages it all as a wittily post-modern heroic fable, or perhaps more likely simply because it’s all just really damned good, darkly sardonic fun, conceived with love and enthusiasm and crafted with supreme skill and bravura by extremely talented people who love what they do…?

A few years ago, the saga was adapted to television and became 2019’s most watched Netflix show. In response, a spiffy deluxe oversized hardcover was released, boasting an extra 50 pages of sketches and such. So you could opt for that or the digital edition if you love trees…

Read The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite if you’re smart, read it if you’re bored, read it because I said so, but if you too love the medium and the genre, read it, read it, read it.
™ © 2008 Gerard Way. All rights reserved.