Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: The Umbrella Academy v1: Apocalypse Suite

Umbrella Academy is a graphic novel that starts off with an atomic flying elbow and never looks back.  This first volume features liquid smooth pacing and some sexy artwork.

Many years ago, all across the world,  forty-three children were born to mostly single women, who previously had shown no signs of pregnancy.  Many were abandoned or put up for adoption, but one man, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a. The Monocle, managed to track down seven of the children and adopt them for himself, his reason: to save the world.

The children Hargreeves adopts all have special gifts, with the exception of one,  which they use to become a super hero team.   After a quick origin story which I pretty much just gave you, Umbrella Academy jumps ahead ten years to showcase the team's first adventure, where they protect Paris and battle the Eiffel Tower which has gone insane.  From there we get another jump, this time of twenty years where the team is kaput and each member is off doing their own thing.  Spaceboy, the former team leader finds out that his adoptive father has died, so he returns to his childhood home for the funeral.  In the meantime, Vanya, the one child without any kind of special powers, gets a mysterious phone call for an audition to become the first violin chair in an orchestra.  Eventually the rest of the "family" turns up at the mansion for the funeral and the adopted Hargreeves children turn out to be a pretty dysfunctional bunch.  They all carry a lot of weird baggage, but possibly none more than Vanya, who has always been the outcast due to her glaring normal-ness.  During this sad, awkward reunion, a world ending threat conveniently surfaces and its time to get the old team back together...too bad the team doesn't get along so well, but they're kinda the worlds only hope, so they'll pull their shit together and save the world right?

Umbrella Academy  is a super hero comic at heart, but it is also something a little bit more.  For one, it is written by a "rock" star, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance.  I've never listened to them, but a quick foray to you tube shows that they are not my musical cup of tea.  Nice hair dye guys...Anyway, I'm not gonna let the dude's other gig cloud my judgment here.  As I said earlier, Apocalypse Suite features one of my favorite things: great pacing.  The plot really rolls along nicely, and it is packed, fucking packed with cool ideas.  Not to mention, plenty of tragedy.

The characters of this graphic novel aren't really that well developed, I don't feel like I got to know the individual characters that well, save maybe Vanya, but what I did get was a strong sense of the tragedy and neglect that played a huge role in their young lives.  They were all adopted for less than loving reasons by a father who didn't seem too interested in them beyond what kind of potential they possessed.  As a result you get a mixed bag of pent up emotions and weird baggage that they've all dealt with in different ways.  In this sense, it was much easier for me to understand the Umbrella Academy team and why they functioned, or dysfunctioned they way they did, rather than understand the team members on an individual basis. 

This graphic novel is also a treasure trove of great, beautiful, wonderful ideas.  There is a wonderful blend of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and straight up weird all interacting in this graphic novel.  I kinda wanna live in the world of Umbrella Academy.  It is a world where the Eiffel Tower is also a rocket ship, aliens exist and live on earth, monkeys can talk, human heads can get grafted onto gorilla bodies, time travel is possible and lots of shit gets blown up.  Completely original.  I loved it.

This graphic novel would probably not be what it is without some great artwork, luckily artist Gabriel Ba delivers.  I can't say that his style is totally unique, since I have a hard time discerning his art from that of his brother, Fabio Moon, but it is unlike anything else I've seen.  His style is somewhat angular, detailed and boldly expressive.  It has just enough slap-dash to it to fit the bizarre world perfectly.  The writing and the art work so well together to create a world that feels familiar but also extremely unique and bizarre at the same time.

I do wish that I could have connected to the individual characters more, because I think it would have added to my enjoyment, but even still, there is a lot of unanswered questions and a large amount of mystery still shrouded and unanswered that guarantees I'll be back for the second and final graphic novel.  Definitely a cool, fresh feeling graphic novel that can and should be enjoyed by many.

Grade: B

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