Sunday, May 17, 2009

Super-Powered Comics: Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite

With the second volume, “Dallas”, coming to an end I thought I would take a look back at one of the greatest new super-powered concepts of the last few years: Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s The Umbrella Academy.

When I first heard of the book a year or so before its release, I got excited. I already really enjoyed Ba’s work on both De:Tales and his Image book with Matt Fraction, Casanova. And as I glanced over the announcement, I saw the name Gerard. Instantly I got excited to see Gerard Jones returning to comics. Jones was the writer of some really solid books back in the nineties: Prime, Wonder Man, Green Lantern, El Diablo, etc.) He left the industry late in the decade after his books continuously were canceled.

I was somewhat chagrined when I read another article about it and noticed it was not Gerard Jones behind it, but Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance.

Now I have to be honest here. I know My Chemical Romance has a lot of fans out there. I mean, a lot. But I am sure as heck not one of them. I find their music to be dreary, tedious, and unbelievably trite. But still I thought the Umbrella Academy looked good. Ba was still there after all, and his art was fantastic.

So I picked it up. And I was glad for it.

The Umbrella Academy takes weird conceits straight out of the playbook of a Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis, twists them in to a whole new form, and unleashes them on the page in an utterly readable manner. This isn’t an existential clusterf**k the way JLA: Rock of Ages or Final Crisis were. The storytelling always remains clear and the characters and their personalities shine through.

The book revolves around six of the seven children taken by a genius decades ago and raised as the country’s super-beings. Decades later, the family hates each other. But when the man that created the original academy dies, they find themselves drawn back together to defend the world from a new wave of threats, one originating from within their very midst.

The cast is well laid out for a team book with the right level of interplay between all the main players, both personality and power-wise. The villains are something out of an acid-fueled Mignola page. Doctor Terminal, the Orchestra Verdammten, Zombie-Robot Gustave Eiffel... these are cool and crazy whack-jobs unlike the world has ever seen. And they are all fun and different. You will be hard pressed to find anything like any of these characters from the big two.

Ba delivers on the art side with a strange style I like to call proportioned-Mignola. The Hellboy creator’s art style is clearly an influence. But Ba takes it and makes it his own... and then some. He brings solid story-telling and a unique look to every page.

Oh, and did I mention the series won the Eisner for Best Limited Series? Sure did. And I cannot think of many books more deserving. If you haven’t already, you owe it to yourself to check out Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite today. Highest Recommendation.

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