Netflix has been going through a crisis of late in keeping with its all-around popular superhero shows. As of a few days ago, Netflix officially announced the cancellations of the two remaining Marvel hits “The Punisher” & “Jessica Jones”, not withstanding Jone’s 3rd Season coming up. It should go to the streaming service’s credit that each entry had its high points & low, the lowest being “The Defenders” collaboration, bringing together each of the New York heroes, but some of them seemed to cliff-hang on what would be the next chapter.
The big picture is Disney coming into the streaming game, Disney owns Marvel, and so piece by piece, Netflix is acting out that transition with the long-game being kept from the public, if there is to be one. So, what does one do when it comes down to unceremoniously, possibly forcefully, knocking down the small empire comprised of a favorite genre, one that brought immense viewership to your network season after season? Well, then you bring in new blood & new ideas to the table, and start over again.
Enter “The Umbrella Academy”, a story from Gerard Way, formally of “My Chemical Romance”, and artwork courtesy of Gerard’s early designs & that of Gabriel Ba.
Gerard had started writing this tale near the end of MCR’s touring in 2006, but his profound love of comics runs much deeper than that. In an interview with Alt Press, Gerard said of his series, “I was reading a lot of things, like Grant Morrison comics and Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and I wanted to make a postmodern superhero story. And then I wrote down all of these things I was interested in and tried to make characters based on them.” “The message“, He continued, “I think is that we’re all screwed up and that we’ll have an easier time if we do this together.”
**Slight Spoilers Follow**
The story itself revolves around a family children adopted by an eccentric billionaire, Reginald Hargreeves, each born at the same time spontaneously all over the world (he only managed to get 7). Like any other superhero origin story, he brought them together in order to face the evils the world had to offer, although in this context, the outcome might be a bit more down-to-earth & relatable. Yes, they had powers, but no, we follow the childen in a fast-forward to their adulthood, where they come off more like a True Hollywood Story episode than an enduring legacy for truth & justice. Thus, Netflix has the makings of a different kind of superhero tale, and one that comes out marvelously.
With the comic itself only being currently comprised of two volumes, Apocalypse Suite & Dallas, with a 3rd currently coming issue-by-issue, I was initially hesitant as to how this would all work together; Would the direction be to do a straight up part-for-part of the 1st volume followed by another season carrying the 2nd, or would series creator Jeremy Slater attempt to wedge them together and lose all the majority source material in the process? The answer became the latter, evidenced by a few episodes in, but the show is much better for it.
Without missing a beat, the movement of events in each episode hit one after the other in such a colorful, entertaining fashion that it was hard to take it slow, yet how each ended gave me a feeling of satisfaction. From the comics themselves, the show is almost completely remixed, which is to be expected for the amount of story thrown together, but unlike many adaptations, it never seemed like too much or too little.
Each character got their own amount of spotlight, each family member explored for how Mr. Hargreeves had left them feeling after their adolescence and the fallout of how that member carried on into today. Sure, none of them are perfectly put together at all; Number One’s a die-hard for the life mission his adoptive father continuously shared with the troop, even to a fault of not being able to consider his siblings, while Number 4, The Seance, is a drug-addict with PTSD from being forced to interact with the Dead in his childhood & it is a “Rumor” that Number 3 secured all she had in life with her mind-control-isc powers, which we see the fallout in her family from. The imperfections are extremely visible in each member, and it’s not out of place with a complicated explanation. That, I think, is the biggest redeeming quality in Gerard’s story.
With much of the spotlight on the family, Mr. Staler still finds time for all the side-stories among the main threads, including much more time on Hazel & Cha-Cha, played by none other than the captivating Mary J. Blige & a moderately new face, Cameron Britton. The terrifyingly killer duo fleshes out the characters where the comic leaves them as very short-stay antagonists; both professionals in their field, Cha-Cha is the workaholic & pusher of the pair, while Hazel is the muscle as well the more opinionated member. The actor’s chemistry brings all of the mad-cap zaniness from the comics into their routines as well as makes one wish they could be given their own series comprised of their adventures out in the field. Alas, we’ll see what the future holds.
From beautifully interpreted arcs to over-the-top violence stylistically choreographed, The Umbrella Academy never lets up a moment, making each of the 10 episodes a ride that by the end of the hour blocks doesn’t quite feel like it. If anything, I wanted to poke at the fact of it being only 10 episodes, but in all honesty, it feels perfect without having to chase extra threads to increase the show count. Namely, there are a few more stories in the first two volumes the show can lock onto, and I can’t wait to see how they pull it off.
The Umbrella Academy; A 10-Episode Netflix Original, 2019
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