New To You Comics #105: ‘The Umbrella Academy Volume 1: Apocalypse Suite’

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule. 

This week, Brendan put up The Umbrella Academy Volume 1: Apocalypse Suite, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, because he got tired of waiting for Netflix to announce the release date for Season Three. In case you missed it, they finally did drop the date. It’s June 22. That’s still pretty far out, so in the mean time, let’s take a look at the wonderfully odd source material that started it all. 

Here’s what Dark Horse tells us about the book:

‘In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-three extraordinary children were spontaneously born to women who’d previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, “To save the world.”

These seven children form the Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.’

Brendan: This is actually my first read-through for Umbrella Academy Vol. 1. I had read the second trade, but for some reason, this first arc slipped through. It happens more frequently than I’d like to admit. I have the memory of a stoned goldfish, and I have to read A LOT of comics for this job. 

I thought the first season of the Netflix show was amazing, so I kind of wanted to go back and see how closely it followed this first arc in the comics. 

I’m acutely aware that movies, TV, prose, and comics are all completely different animals, and it’s ridiculous to think that anyone would be able to tell the exact same story across mediums. 

But… that being said, I think the broad strokes are here, and whether you’ve been on board since the comic first hit the spinner racks back in aught-seven, or are a fan of the show just learning there’s a book out there, there’s a little something here for the whole fan base.

Tony: Is that when this book come out originally? I’m almost positive I read it for the first time right when it was collected back then. It’s one of the few books that I’ve bought both physically and digitally. This is just a dang good comic. It’s full of silver age weirdness mixed with a ton of late 90’s/early 2000’s storytelling style.

Also, you bring up the show. I was impressed by how well it adapted the broad strokes. Though I really missed the evil orchestra in the show.

Brendan: I actually appreciated that cut, for the reason I mentioned before. Comics and TV tell different stories, or the same story, differently. While it works in the book, I think it would have sidelined the show, adding in too many characters and side plots to follow. I also really appreciate Elliot Page’s take on Vanya, and I don’t think their portrayal works as well on screen without the weird boyfriend and the second fiddle angle. 

Both takes work exceptionally well for their respective media, and as many people are working on any given comic at once, the one thing they’re missing is the actor’s input. It’s kind of cool sometimes to see what talented actors can bring to the table. 

Tony: And in comics that’s up to the writer and artist, which I think is something the comic does really well. Way and Ba make up one of most creatively in-sync teams that I think I’ve ever seen. It comes through in the storytelling, the designs, the world building. This is one of those comics that is just so frustrating we have so little of it.

Brendan: A hundred percent. Three complete arcs, with a fourth promised. I would binge the hell out of a hundred of these books if they were available.

You mentioned the synchronicity of the team, and honestly, the script would not work with a different artist. This is a great pairing for this exact story to be told. 

Ba reminds me a little of Mike Mignola here. The art’s got that weird, sort of blocky caricatured style, and lines are used sparingly, giving just enough detail for backgrounds and peripheral characters in a panel so that you can see everything, but your eye is drawn to the important details. 

I really like that they include some of the preliminary sketches in the backmatter on both the physical and digital versions, too. While we don’t know yet WHY Luther has a human head surgically attached to a Martian gorilla body (I believe that gets explained in the second arc), it’s really cool to see the different ideas that led to the final character design.

Tony: Yeah, this book (as great as the story is) is all Ba’s. Really I think the only problem with the art is all the leads are lily white (which the show corrects). Each one has their role on the team, and they’re all visually distinct. And they all have a great personality just from their appearance and how they carry themselves. For example- Number Five simultaneously feels like a kid and an old man.

Brendan: Glad you brought that up. Emmy Raver-Lampman’s portrayal of The Rumor is so fantastic. The performance is so tied to the character, that it was kind of shocking to go back to the source material and see that lily white version of Allison on the pages.

Tony: Yeah, definitely. 

Brendan: I keep going on about how equal the comic and TV versions are, but there are definitely things I enjoy more in the comic’s version of events. Pongo’s demise is handled much better here. In the show, it seemed like his death was almost an accident. Vanya got all worked up, and in her rage, the monkey got thrown against a wall and impaled on a trophy head.

It’s much more intentional in the book. She went to the house looking to kill someone, then used her abilities very deliberately to pop his head. That played better for me. Less innocent, if that’s even the right word. You can almost excuse her in the show, but in the book, it’s an act of pure, premeditated evil.

Tony: The book did so much more story development, which is weird to say about a 6-ish issue comic series versus a 10 episode TV season. We saw more of the kids as kids. We saw Vanya’s development from a shrinking violet into a musical spirit of vengeance. Seance’s path is a lot bigger and makes him a lot more grand figure, which makes his faults and failings a bit more tragic. Luther’s sense of duty and struggling to live up to Hargreave’s expectations had a bit stronger arc.

Brendan: And it’s a little hard to judge either the book or the show off the first arc/season, knowing that they both correct some of those issues down the road. 

Tony: Yeah, definitely. But we’re doing a lot of comparison. I think if you take the book on its own, I think it’s one of the strongest creator owned stories of the past 15 years. And probably THE strongest creator owned superhero story of that time.

You made the Mignola comparison a minute ago, and it’s probably the Hellboy/BPRD of its era.

Brendan: No lie detected. If there was no show, I’d still love this book, and vice versa. They both exist in their own lanes, and they’re both done amazing well. I don’t think I need to ask where you land on this one, so what’s up on your queue for next week?

Tony: You would ask me that. We’re going to go with a contemporary of Umbrella Academy next week with an equally beloved adaptation and check out Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (aka Scott Pilgrim V1) from Oni!

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