Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: The Umbrella Academy

This graphic novel was written by Gerard Way, lead singer of the band My Chemical Romance, whose music I'm frankly unfamiliar with. (They make a big deal throughout the graphic novel of the author's rock star status.)

Nothing against Way using his apparent star status as a musician to get this gig, as well as an apparent sequel volume that I won't be reading. But it reads like a bunch of unrelated bits that he thought were cool and decided to string together with amateurish glee.

It's the story of a group of kids, born under unusual circumstances and gifted with extraordinary powers that they use to save the world, under the guidance of their adoptive billionaire father, who is apparently an alien.

The story jumps back and forth between the present day, when the adult members of the Umbrella Academy unwillingly reunite to face yet another threat to the world, and the past, when they began their journey toward familial dysfunction.

The story has some interesting ideas, a lot of weird ideas masquerading as interesting ideas, a cast of potentially intriguing but undeveloped characters, and only the vaguest semblance of a plot. It reminded me of Grant Morrison's run on The Doom Patrol, with a slightly more coherent premise, equally weird but less interesting characters, and plotting that makes Morrison's early work look tightly scripted.

Bad guys appear and disappear with no clear motivation and no apparent relevance other than to provide a cool image and a loud bang. Even the main villains are the thinnest of sketches. Plot hooks are left dangling everywhere. It's not even clear just what kind of powers the various members of the Umbrella Academy possess. In some ways I applaud Way for trying to embrace the idea of showing rather than telling, but the scenes he devises are a jumbled mish-mash that end up telling us very, very little about anything. The big finale is a complete deus ex machina moment that relies upon one of the Academy members displaying a power nobody realized he had that single-handedly saves everyone from doom.

Ultimately, the Umbrella Academy is style turned up to 11 and masquerading as substance. The five star reviews on Amazon leave me scratching my head, frankly. The three-star reviews seem to hit the nail right on the head. If Way had exercised the storytelling discipline to flesh out anything that he dabbles in here, I'd have given him higher marks for the creativity of some of the ideas he tosses out.

But I feel that in the current comic book marketplace I can easily find much better told stories that are creatively satisfying.

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