This is Propaganda, I’m Richard Bruton and this is what I’ve been reading lately…
The Umbrella Academy
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Ba
The Umbrella Academy is the much talked about comics debut from writer Gerard Way. Of course, you and I know him as the slightly more famous lead singer and writer of the modern pop combo My Chemical Romance. It seems that Way has been hankering for many years to be a comics writer ever since putting in a little time serving behind the counter at his local comic shop. He fell for Grant Morrison’s acclaimed Doom Patrol series of the early 90s. And it shows. It really, really shows. It shows from the very first page:
“It was the same year Tusslin Tom Gurney knocked out the space squid from Rigel X-9. It happened at 9:38pm….. It came from an atomic flying elbow.”
(the opening wrestler versus squid scene of issue #1 of Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s Umbrella Academy)
Then your eye pans down to a wrestling ring where a huge wrestler with a tiny head is about to body slam a terrified giant squid. And that’s just an incidental piece of action.
Once past that the style is set. Bizarre and weird, throwing every possible ounce of strangeness into the mix and seeing what sticks. To pick out all of the Morrison-esque touches would be picky and unfair. And would take a long time. But just to give you an idea, the title of the first issue is “The Day The Eiffel Tower Went Beserk”. At that point I nearly checked the end to work out whether Morrison’s Doom Patrol would be riding to the rescue. But because Gerard Way manages to reproduce some of the fun of those Doom Patrol stories it’s not something that annoys; instead it intrigues and rather impresses.
The story is similarly lifted from here, there and everywhere: a mysterious and world renowned scientist adopts seven gifted children with the sole intent of training them to become a team to save the world. The action then switches to ten years later, as the group of children become the Umbrella Academy, mini superheroes in school uniforms saving Paris from Zombie-Robot Gustave Eiffel. And then switches again to twenty years later as we see the children grown up, the team long disbanded, as they gather together again in the wake of their scientist mentor’s death.
(the Eiffel Tower misbehaves in the first issue of the Umbrella Academy – sacre bleu! (c) Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, published Dark Horse)
As for the art, Gabriel Ba is proving himself to be one of the more interesting young artists to break through in recent years. His work on Casanova was a beautiful, angular thing on a muted colour palette. His art in Umbrella Academy is simpler, slightly less angular, with a flat colour palette this time but it’s no less impressive. Reminiscent of Mike Mignola in parts and looking awfully like Matt Wagner’s Sandman work in others, but still with a delightfully original look; definitely one to watch for the future.
(“Billion dollar babies”, Gerard Way style)
Way spends the two issues I’ve read throwing as much weirdness as he can muster at the reader and although I did enjoy it there’s an energy in the book that just didn’t properly connect for me. It’s almost as if he’s trying far too hard to fill every page with some strangeness or other. Maybe the subsequent issues will improve; maybe it will connect a little more then. But, despite all of the obvious problems with the book; the lack of originality, the formulaic plot, the bloody obvious lifting of ideas, concepts and characters from other writers, I found myself enjoying it in much the same way I enjoy a good episode of something like Heroes – big, dumb hokum. Umbrella Academy is just the same, it’s a fun little comic.