Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Umbrella Academy, Volume 1: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba Review

Umbrella Academy looks like another case of Saga - a comic everyone loves that I didn’t like at all. I honestly don’t know what people see in UA that makes it so beloved. It’s a mix of sci-fi and superhero comics starring a group of weird kids with powers that on paper reads a bit like a Grant Morrison comic - the Eiffel Tower goes “crazy”, one of the characters turns themselves into a living instrument - all of which I should love except Gerard Way has none of the artistry of Morrison.

The plot of the book is threadbare at best - some kids born at the same time are arbitrarily given superpowers. Why, how, it’s never explained. Flash forward several years and one of them has grafted his head onto a giant ape’s body (why?) and lives on the moon with a robot servant (why?). Again, reads like a great idea but never goes beyond its description. Anyway, the others all have similarly bizarre situations - one of them travelled forwards in time for some reason then went back and somehow became a kid forever or something (why?!) - except for one girl who’s somehow included with the other kids but doesn’t have any special powers and isn’t included in their superhero outings so I’m not sure why she’s part of the UA. And why is it called Umbrella Academy anyway?

So a bad guy wants to kill the world with music for some reason and recruits the poor girl without superpowers who does know how to play the violin really well, turning her into the human violin you see on the cover (why death by music?). Because she’s been left out, etc., she becomes evil and tries to blow up the world with a death song or something and the UA have to stop her.

Events happen without any rhyme or reason, they just happen because, while the characters are completely flat. I couldn’t tell you their names or their character traits, or why they were whisked away by some alien professor, or why anything that happened in this book happened at all. It’s just one big blur of derivative nonsense.

As most people will know, Gerard Way is the frontman for the rock band My Chemical Romance (who I do like) so its easy to see where the musical themes central to the book come from and the chapter titles read like rejected song titles for MCR: Apocalypse Suite; The Day The Eiffel Tower Went Beserk; We Only See Each Other At Weddings and Funerals; Baby, I’ll Be Your Frankenstein; Brothers and Sisters, I Am An Atomic Bomb. Each could fit in nicely on their records The Black Parade or Danger Days.

The best thing about the book by far is Gabriel Ba’s art, which is, as usual, sublime. Ba does a simply gargantuan task of bringing Way’s hyper-crazy script to life, creating the bizarre cast of the Umbrella Academy in imaginative and interesting styles while imbuing the comic with shades of surrealism, gothic horror and classic sci-fi. If you enjoyed the art in this book I highly recommend checking out his and his twin brother Fabio Moon’s books Daytripper and De:Tales.

Way is a gifted songwriter and lyricist and while he definitely possesses one hell of an imagination, Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite shows that he’s a long way from becoming a good comics writer. UA is all swagger, bombast, and barely engaging with zero substance.

The Umbrella Academy Volume 1

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