Umbrella Academy – Gerard Way’s difficult second series – never going to be a problem
by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba
Dark Horse Comics
I’ve read the first issues of Dark Avengers and Incognito in the last few days and they’ve been okay and good in that order. But Umbrella Academy Dallas #1 is exactly what a first issue should be. It’s practically perfect: introduces the storyline, throws out more questions than it does answers, energises the reader with a desire to read more and makes it a pure delight to close the comic with that final page.
I loved the first book Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite (see here for that review)- it made me feel like I was reading a classic grant Morrison Doom Patrol story, which, as anyone who knows me will testify, is a compliment of the highest order. And on finishing the first issue of the current series I had exactly the same feeling. It really isn’t fair that Gerard Way can do this; he has no right to be such a good writer and a talented and successful musician as well. Next I’ll find out he’s actually a really nice bloke and my misery shall be complete.
Umbrella Academy ticks all the right boxes for me; it’s quirky as anything, yet never so much that it sits wrongly, action packed yet tongue firmly in cheek. It has an action packed lead off issue, but there’s still time to properly re-introduce us to the characters we last saw in The Apocalypse Suite. We learn that they’ve moved on but the questions stack up as we meet them. And unlike Dark Avengers, where the speed and unresolved questions merely grated, here with the Umbrella Academy, those unresolved questions and the relative speed of the book just don’t matter since the experience of reading it is just such a blast.
Halfway through there’s a fight scene that I read and immediately thought of the phrase “orchestra of violence” to describe it. It really is that good.
(How’s that for an opening page? Kennedy and the missiles are all going to be back later. From Umbrella Academy: Dallas #1 by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba))
In many ways this is the hardest type of review to write. The bad ones are easy, the so-so books are more difficult but easy to analyse. But when faced with a comic that just had me grinning from ear to ear with the fun of it all, how do you really keep a sense of objectivity when writing about it? Easy answer: you don’t. Sometimes a book makes you just want to stand up and shout about it, proclaim it’s greatness to all who will listen and hit those that wont listen until they get so tired of the beating that they give it a try anyway.
Of course, that was just issue 1. Luckily for me, I had issues 2 and 3 to carry on with. Just as good. All the action, all the quirky off beat humour, all the imagination. It’s all there. It’s not super serious, just thoroughly enjoyable and super fun. Much needed super fun.
In all of this gushing praise, I haven’t yet mentioned Gabriel Ba. He’s a perfect artist for this, with his angular Mike Mignola-esque art serving the story so well. He was good with Umbrella Academy, sublime on Casanova and every bit as good again here. I’m also noticing panels and poses that remind me of Paul Grist as well. Not a bad thing at all.
(The Umbrella Academy. No ice cream, but lots of off beat violence and action adventure a plenty to come.)
You want to know the story you say? Okay; Eccentric inventor Sir Reginald Hargeevees adopts seven gifted and powerful children, telling everyone that they will one day save the world. The children grow up and emerge as the Umbrella Academy. One of them went missing in time, another died and one never developed her powers. Eventually they fractured and drifted apart, only coming together again with the death of Hargeeves where they discovered that not only was the powerless sister actually the most powerful of them all, it was her they had to defeat to fulfill their promise of saving the world. The child who went missing arrived back in their midst, unchanged from his 10 year old self, the all powerful sister was crippled, the team left broken and devastated.
Which brings us up to date. They’re all still recovering. Questions still remain: why is Number 5, the perpetual ten year old so skillful with those guns? If the Rumour’s lost her voice what future does she have without powers? Why is the Kraken still investigating a mass murder where the shooter seemed supernaturally accurate with his guns? And will Spaceboy, head long since grafted onto the body of a gorilla, ever stop watching TV, stop eating cookies, get out of the chair and lose a few pounds?
But despite all of this very deliberate weirdness, there’s no point where the silliness takes over. Not even when the two assassins sent through time to convince Number 5 to carry out the hit on Kennedy that he ducked out of a long time ago are called Hazel and Cha-Cha and have day-glo big-head masks on. It actually makes the cartoon violence and stupid dialogue they come out with a little bit more menacing in fact.
(Hazel and Cha-Cha; time travelling assassins in stupid masks. You really wouldn’t want them to be the last things you see. They’re after Number 5 and are busy taking out the rest of the Umbrella Academy to get him.)
There’s three more issues to go. I see us finding out a lot more about the history of Number 5, lots more spirited and orchestrated violence and perhaps even a few more deaths along the way this time.
I really can’t praise it highly enough. It’s lightweight, yet gloriously so, the quirky characters all serve a great adventure series so well. It still reads like the Grant Morrison comics of old and it certainly owes a debt to the storytelling of all of those great early Marvel and DC comics where the weirdness and wackiness was only just held in check by the great action. Seriously, this will be one of the best superhero comics I read all year.