Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Umbrella Academy.

So, I've got a secret to reveal today; I recently bought The Umbrella Academy Trade about a week ago. And it's really, really, really, really good. I've actually read it twice and I really want to read it a third time, but I might lend it to someone instead.

I had heard good things about it, but I had massive reservations about it because of who was involved in the project. If you don't know, it's written by Gerard Way, and if you don't know who he is, well, you should really get out of the house more often. He is the lead singer of My Chemical Romance. I hate his band, but I love his comic. It's been a very pleasant surprise and I actually can't wait until the next series comes out. It's THAT good.

As I said, a lot of people are saying good things about it, but then I heard him talking about it on the radio. Then, while I was reading Knights of the Old Republic, I saw an ad for the series (see the picture off to the right further down). The ad prominently features "Spaceboy" and it peaked my interest because I noticed that Space has the body of a gorilla. If you've got gorillas, or even half-gorillas involved in your comic, I'm in.

Turns out, there are zombie robots, talking chimpanzees, and space travel in the first story arc, which are four out of my top five favorite things to look for in a comic book (Ninjas are the fifth thing. And I count Zombies and Robots as two separate entries on the list). The plot device is pretty simple, but effective, and I found myself starting to think about all of the possibilities that the series has. It's pretty limitless. But in a good way.

A little backstory (don't read the following if you don't want any spoilers); twenty years ago, there was an event where 43 births occurred to women that showed no previous signs of being pregnant.

A well known Olympian and Nobel Prize Winner (and upon re-reading it, also an alien), Sir Reginald Hargreeves, aka; The Monocle, set out to adopt as many of the children as possible. He succeeded in adopting seven of them and formed the Umbrella Academy to raise them. It turns out that they all have super powers and he grooms them into a super team.

The cool thing about the plot device is that there is a mix of flashbacks and the current time line (twenty+ years after "the event"). There's also a member of the Academy that can time travel and has been missing for about 10-15 years, so you have that thrown in the mix too. I really like how it was set up with a short history of the group, then it included their first adventure, and then it flashed to the present. The team hasn't been together for a very long time, some of them have drastically changed, and one of them is dead. Like a family would, they all interact with each other differently. The writing is really quite real. They end up gathering for the first time in several years for the death of their father, and every member of the team has a different opinion of their adopted alien father.

The gaps really draw you in because they way it's presented, you REALLY want to know what the hell happened to the team. And that's what I like about it. There's a whole lot of back-story that needs to be addressed. They give that to you, but of course they don't give it to you all at once. So they have to fill in that twenty year gap, and then there's the time travel story that has to be told (one line I liked was when when someone asked the time traveling kid about what happened or what he had to do to get back to the present time, he answered, "Well, I guess I should start with the Kennedy assassination..." and then of course something happened and they didn't get to it. Don't think I haven't forgotten about that though. I WANT TO KNOW!), so with all of that, there's a lot of possibilities and a lot of different ways that the series could go.

It's also refreshing that it's a brand new mythology. I think Invincible has succeeded in part due to this because there are brand new characters in a brand new universe. They're not established properties with a whole lot of back story where, as a writer, you're going to offend huge chunks of your readership if you try and do something different. I think a lot of the big publishers and writers who work with the big publishers get locked into doing certain things with established characters because that's how things have been done with that character for 40-50 years. Case in point, look what happened with Spider-Man and the "Brand New Day" story that completely shook things up; there was big time backlash from the readers, even though the Spider-Man franchise was extremely stale at that point. Again, I think the reason why Invincible and The Umbrella Academy are so good is because no one or nothing is really safe, and if it's done the right way, you're left hungering for back story. Lately, they've tried, but I really don't get the same feeling when I read Wolverine stories, I know he's going to survive, and if he "dies" (which kind of happened a couple of story arcs ago in the regular Wolvie series) you know he's really not dead permanently. I mean, especially in the Marvel Universe, everyone's "Marvel Dead" until there's a definitive answer to the question, and even after that, they can still come back, (i.e. - Colossus). I have part of a post written about that very subject, at some point I'll get around to publishing it.

I guess what I'm trying to say it that I think when you start something from scratch, there's a certain level of freshness involved that gets people excited. And that's what is going on with The Umbrella Academy. It's a very interesting move for Dark Horse, because they've pretty much made their living off of licensed properties for the last 15-20 years, so this is a very radical departure for them. It seems to have paid off, and I hope they make more decisions like this.

I also think that it's success partially comes from the fact that Gerard Way is who he is, but I think even more than that, it's successful because he's a new voice. One of the reasons I think I really like it is because it's not just "this writer" with "that artist" starting a run on an "established super-hero series". It's a first time writer and a relatively new artist. So it's just totally new. And totally good.

Anyways, the next installment of The Umbrella Academy is set for a November 26th release, and I cannot wait. I highly recommend picking up the trade to get started though, you WILL NOT be disappointed.

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