Book Review: ‘The Umbrella Academy: Vol 1’ by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba

Creators: Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá

Originally Published in 2007-08

Review by Miriam Atkinson

Despite having friends who were fans of The Umbrella Academy comics for years, like many my first encounter with the series was through the Netflix adaptation. Needless to say I quickly became a fan. I was therefore delighted with a recently stumbled across the first two volumes of the graphic novels.

So let’s start with volume one…Apocalypse Suite.

Mysterious businessman Reginald Hargreaves adopts seven babies born to women who were not pregnant at the start of the day. These children have special abilities and together they make up The Umbrella Academy. They were raised to save the world. Naturally things do not go according to plan.

Throughout volume one the graphic novel alternates between past adventures of when The Umbrella Academy were children and the present day. In the present, forces of evil attack a weakened Umbrella Academy following Hargreaves’ death and years of sibling infighting. While I liked the present day plotline I actually preferred the brief scenes set in the past. These showed the Academy at the high of its power and popularity. They also gave readers a fun insight into the everyday lives of the siblings as they tackled different evil masterminds.

I knew the Netflix adaptation would have made changes to the story in order to expand elements for the different storytelling format, but I was surprised to see just how much had been changed. (I can’t believe we’ve been deprived of a side plot involving the Eiffel Tower as a spaceship!).

Reading the original story for the first time, some of the biggest surprises for me included: Klaus having full control of his powers from the start (whereas in the adaptation it isn’t until season three that he achieves the same level of control he has in the graphic novel); the inclusion and pivotal role of the Orchestra Verdammten (hopefully the show will find a way of including a version of this group in the final series); and Vanya’s character arc as a willing antagonist rather than a victim of circumstance (here I actually prefer the adaption version of Vanya as the character is given so much more depth in the show).

Something the graphic novel does an excellent job at is showing the fractious bond between the Hargreaves siblings. This ranges from young sibling rivalry, such as wanting to get the final blow in a fight and thus save the day, to problematic adults unable to be in a room together without arguing. It was great to see the progression of that bond move from past to present. The physical separation of the siblings as adults was believable and it added to the growing dilemma that maybe The Umbrella Academy wouldn’t be able to save the world.

Furthering this emotional distance between the core characters is the fact that their adoptive father gave them numbers rather than names. In the adaptation the siblings reject this and typically address each other by their chosen names (e.g. Luther and Allison). However I was intrigued to see that in the graphic novel the siblings normally refer to each other by their superhero titles (e.g. Spaceboy and The Rumor). It implies that this version of the characters have a much harder time shaking Hargreaves’ influence and seeing themselves as real individuals rather than titles and symbols.

It was fascinating to see where the story of The Umbrella Academy began. It was really interesting to see which elements of the plot and characters were similar yet at the same time very different to the adaptations. I’m glad I had the chance to read the story in its original form and I’m looking forward to Volume Two.

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