Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Trade Waiting - Umbrella Academy Vol 1, The Apocalypse Suite

I'm sure no one would have guessed that Gerard Way, the lead singer for My Chemical Romance, would produce one of the most refreshing and unique superhero stories from the past couple of years, but, he did, and The Umbrella Academy is truly a great superhero comic. Hit the jump for my review.

Written by Gerard Wary
Art by Gabriel Ba
Collects Umbrella Academy #1-6, material from 2008 Free Comic Book Day and a short story from www.darkhorse.com

The Umbrella Academy has been called the X-Men for cool people, but, honestly, given the subject matter of the book, it has far more in common with Doom Patrol than with the X-Men, or, at least, the last decade or so's worth of X-Men comics. Umbrella Academy is also influenced by writers like Grant Morrison, who, coincidentally, also wrote Doom Patrol at one point. Overall, Way mixes crazy ideas, characters, story and plot perfectly to create a well crafted superhero saga.

As per the title of this volume, The Apocalypse Suite, the main plot of Umbrella Academy and deals with their efforts to stop the end of the world, which is their entire reason for existing. Way takes the slow burn approach, carefully building up the tension in the early phases of the story and ends with, well, the end of the world, in more ways than one. But he does not make it unnecessarily big and, rather, works it into some of the themes and subplots that are in the book. The story is well paced and Way does a good job of balancing the cast and various subplots, giving each time to work towards the inevitable conclusion. He also lays the seeds for future stories in the series, but it does not get in the way of the story he is telling and only makes the work more engaging since it adds a since of intrigue to the story.

However, the story is rather low key as far as end of the world tales go, but it's not really a problem in my eyes since the Umbrella Academy is definitely a character driven story, much to its credit. Way has a nice, diverse cast of characters, both main and supporting, and many of them are also interesting, either through their personality or design, though Way could have done a better job of introducing them to the reader. This is not to say that it's hard to figure out who each character is and what not, but most of them are not properly introduced and it takes a couple of issues to get a good grasp on several of them. Oddly enough, this doesn't really hinder the story to a large degree, but it does take a rereading or two to fully understand many of the characters.

The characters, by and large, are pretty archetypal, though Way adds some things here and there to all of them which makes them a little more interesting. Way also shows a good understanding of the various archetypes he uses. They are characters with strong personalities that help with the character driven nature of the story.

Way also does a fantastic job of introducing the relationships between the various characters, which is a constant throughout the story. In fact, the resolution of the story's conflict mostly comes about because of who the characters are, rather than because of what they can do like in most superhero stories, which is a pretty refreshing take on the material.

As mentioned above, the Umbrella Academy is a Doom Patrol styled book. There are crazy ideas to be found throughout the story. Some of them are pretty cool and most of them are also pretty interesting, though there are a couple of cliched ideas/concepts as well (talking monkeys for instance). But I didn't find any of them downright bad either. A lot of them seem to be the foundation for future Umbrella Academy stories, so it is going to be interesting to see how they pan out.

Umbrella Academy also seems like Grant Morrison for the masses, as odd as that may sound. It has none of the problems his detractors complain about yet manages to maintain a lot of what his supporters like about his work and never feels dumbed down either. Now, this is not a slight towards Way since a) Morrison actually does the foreword and b) they actually shared a panel at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con, so none of this really coincidental in my eyes.

The art is by Gabriel Ba, so, of course, it's really good. His art is on the "cartoony" side, but it's also detailed, which pays off in a lot of his designs for the book. He is also great with facial expressions and his story telling abilities are top notch. The art is also bloody, but not gory, and Ba's action scenes are energetic and dynamic. Colorist Dave Stewart also deserves a lot of credit for helping to bring the art alive and making jump off the page.

Verdict - Must Read. A stunning superhero tale that puts many of its competitors to shame, The Umbrella Academy is one of the most unique and impressive superhero comics from the past decade.

Like this review? Interested in this books? Purchase The Umbrella Academy Vol 1: The Apocalypse Suite from Amazon.com and help support The Weekly Crisis.

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Matt Ampersand said...

This series is one of the nicest surprises I have ever read. Totally recommended to any and every reader.

Bill said...

Your "Morrison for the masses" statement was dead on, since I enjoyed this and generally dislike Morrison's stuff. Although Batman & Robin might be actual Morrison for the masses, since I'm loving that too.

btownlegend said...

A flash of genius and also funny at the right moments.

jason quinones said...

i keep holding out on this for some reason. it's been on my "read one day" list since it came out in trade form. maybe i'm just bitterly jealous of the bastard...creative comic writer AND artist AND a rock star!! FML...

Eric Rupe said...

Bill - Yeah, that's a vibe I've been getting from Batman and Robin as well.

btownlegend - I didn't really notice the humor. It was there but it didn't really stand out to me.

Jason - I know Way is an artist but I've never seen any of his work though.

Matt Ampersand said...

If I'm not mistaken, he's designed the artwork that his band uses on the CD covers and some t-shirts. As for comic book work, I haven't seen any either.

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