The Umbrella Academy on the surface seems like something of a vanity project, seeing as it’s written by My Chemical Romance front man Gerard Way. When stars from one medium work in another, it usually doesn’t go so well, and countless people from film or TV have written comics that didn’t exhibit much flair for the medium as they creeped out on glacial schedules. Think Lost creator’s Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk, which slowly emerged over a three year period. Luckily, this isn’t the case for Umbrella Academy, which is a thoroughly delightful comic that builds its own world and displays a great understanding of what makes the comics medium work. Way is definitely helped by great art from Gabriel Ba, whose stylized renderings create an enticing aesthetic for the comic.
The short pitch for Umbrella Academy would likely be imagine The Royal Tenenbaums as a family of superheroes. The work also draws inspiration from Grant Morrison’s team of outcasts, The Doom Patrol. Essentially, it follows a group of children who were adopted by an eccentric man and turned into superheroes as children, then picks up with them as adults, getting together for their ‘father’s’ funeral. Though quite similar to those aforementioned works, Academy still manages to feel fresh. Way finds a lot of fantastic images throughout, from the matching uniforms of the family as children, to their outré appearances as adults.
A lot of film people who write comics make comics that feel like storyboards, not really understanding the unique properties of the comics medium. Coming from music, Way doesn’t write something that feels like a discarded spec script turned into a comic. His integration of music into the narrative is really interesting, and he packs it full of images and spectacle that take full advantage of what Ba can do. This is a great book to give to someone who’s not that familiar with comics, it’s self contained with a beginning and end (though there is a currently running sequel miniseries), and is a bit more joyful than other superhero staples like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. It’s a fun book, and hopefully Way’s celebrity will bring some new readers to comics.