Thursday, June 3, 2010

Umbrella Academy – Apocalypse Suite – iPhone Review

I’ve been meaning to pick up this first trade of the Umbrella Academy for ages. I heard only good things, it won the Eisner for best new series, and yet it always floats just below what must be purchased. But then I bought an iPhone and I could download the first issue for free. I did and read it, and quite enjoyed it, so filling in the trade on this fantastic device would only set me back $6. Needless to say, I got it. So now I can review the work but also the medium of the work. Hit the jump to see my thoughts on both things.

Umbrella Academy - Apocalypse Suit

Written by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Ba
Colours by Dave Stewart

The Story

The first issue is a great hook as we are introduced to The Monocle and see as he collects seven mysterious babies. He forms them into a super team, of sorts, and it’s kind of like some sort of perverted X-Men. The team are shown as ten year olds in battle in Paris and causing the Eiffel Tower to launch off into space. It’s a weird series, but if you come to grips with that quickly then you get to enjoy it quite a lot.

The rest of the series plays out. We see the team assemble many years later as adults at the funeral of the Monocle. They’re a changed bunch and we quickly get an idea that they’ve grown apart, and most probably pushed each other apart. There’s enmity between nearly all of them and then The Boy comes back. He is a time traveler and has been missing for years and he comes back with a warning of the end of the world.

The rest of the team are quickly fleshed out as character, the space explorer who nearly died and had to have his head transplanted onto the body of a massive gorilla, the quiet emo type of guy, and the angsty anti-hero who reminded me of Grifter visually. They are certainly an interesting bunch but I usually find that when reading new characters I like to flick back and forth between the pages to get the best sense of what connections are being made and who is exactly whom. I could not do this with the iPhone and I did find this a little restricting, but I’ll get to that gripe later.

It seems that the end of the world is going to come via the one member of the Academy who has no powers, Vanya. She is a poor soul who never manifested an ability like the rest and has felt like an outsider at all stages. She falls into the hands of The Conductor, a gruesome-headed leader of a group known as the Orchestra Verdammten. He plans to destroy the world and needs Vanya to do so. He eventually gets her and turns her into the White Violin, a being of strange musical destructive power. It's a fantastic premise, a little nonsensical but about as sure as a group of strange orphans becoming a superteam. The idea of the domino masked Orchestra is one of the best things about this series, it's ludicrous and absurd and completely horrifying at the same time.

The White Violin provokes the Umbrella Academy into a fight as she conducts the Orchestra into their final performance, and play they do. It’s a great set up and by the final act you really feel for all of the main characters. They are densely written by Gerard Way very quickly and you can easily see the many decades of history that they all have and share. It’s surprisingly well done by the front man of band My Chemical Romance in his first comic outing. It’s like he’s put his whole life’s worth of ideas into the one series and made them all work together like one happy family.

Gabriel Ba expertly takes these very intriguing ideas and simply lays them out while intricately putting them together. It’s a classy act that he manages to make it all look so simple and yet there’s quite a lot of specificity to what he presents us in each panel. I love that Ba can keep the artwork loose and yet still pack in all of the details and ideas that Way asks of him.

Verdict – Buy It. Quite honestly, when you stand back and look at this series it really is quite a thing to behold. It’s got great characters, it’s not tied into any continuity, you get plenty of ideas and if you don’t mind a comic that thinks it is pretty smart and tries more than you normally get in the one mini then you should be pretty happy with this series. I really did enjoy the entire concept and how it was pulled together.

The Reader

The reader is provided directly by Dark Horse Comics company and I think they have a few kinks they can work out. From the first instant, I noticed that I liked the art and the story but in viewing it through my phone I wasn’t being given a chance to see complete pages at all, not like Comixology allows you to. I only had a rolling succession of panels and though this meant I got the whole story I never got a great feel for scenes. One thing I like about comics is that it’s a different literate device than other written forms. Each page makes, or at least should, its own little story or structured act. Look at the work of Brian K Vaughan, that man knows how to set up a page and then have a pay off at the end. With this reader you never really get that opportunity.

You also can’t track through to different pages easily, so you’re kind of stuck wherever you get up to. In a trade which boasts having 599 panels, this means that to go back and try to see something again would be quite arduous. This was a big problem for me because I wanted to go back and made sure I had previous interactions right in my mind.

Ba’s art is obviously pretty damn good but I was not allowed the function to zoom in on it and so could not pore over it as much as I would have liked. I really felt trapped at times and this annoyed me, but again these are comic specific annoyances, not story limitations.

It also appears, or so I am told, that each issue of Umbrella Academy came with text notes and stuff at the end. I can’t verify this because I certainly didn’t get any of them in the digital version. I am a big fan of monthly comics giving us that something extra and I hated losing it here, but I guess maybe they weren’t in the trade either so that’s why I didn’t get them here. Either way, not overly impressed with that omission.

Verdict – Check It. Having the comics, or the trade, means you can pick it up and have a flip through, you can show it to someone else and give them a rough idea of what they’re looking at. You really cannot view any random selections or quickly move to a certain scene with this reader. That was a disappointment. The art does turn up well and I could still get the story, and that’s what is very high of importance, but I just felt a little detached from the overall vibe of the comic. I don’t mind the digital medium but it certainly isn’t preferred. But it’ll do in a pinch so certainly go online and give a few titles, free or cheap, a go. It’s a great start or sample point to jump onto a title.

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blueairplane said...

I got this when the single issues came out. It seemed (and was) really interesting and fresh. I didn't even know who the author was before I started picking it up (which is a good thing, b/c I probably would've shied away from it). Never picked up the second arc, though. I wasn't sure about it, and it was getting harder to justify another series monetarily at the time. Anyone read it? Was it as good as this one?

Matt Duarte said...

I haven't checked out the sequel. Part of me is afraid that it will not be as good as the first one.

But yeah, I'll never get past the fact that the dude from My Chemical Romance created such an awesome comic.

Anonymous said...

I read Umbrella Academy: Dallas, it's just as good as the first arc. If you're a fan of the first I suggest picking up Dallas.

Anonymous said...

I feel like I'm in the minority. I didn't dislike the series, but I didn't quite get the Eisner-acclaim vibe from it, either. I'd PROBABLY check out the 2nd arc, but not breaking my back to do so.

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