I realise I’m a little late to this one – 11 years late in fact, as the first edition was published in 2008. I tell you what, though – it was worth the wait. This has immediately jumped up to one of my all-time favourite graphic novels, and you’re about to read me singing its praises for the rest of this post. Hopefully by the end you’ll be convince this is something you have to read!
First things first, the author – Gerard Way – is an established creative genius through his days with My Chemical Romance. It was only natural that he channelled the dark vibes from his band into his literary work, and you definitely get that in the first instalment of Umbrella Academy. He has the endorsement of Grant Morrison, whose work I love, and with the recent release of the Netflix original show based on this graphic novel, its safe to say it has its fair share of backing. You can’t argue with that.
I went to try and write a paragraph-long, spoiler free synopsis of this graphic novel to tell you whats its about, but its not that simple. It’s so intricate and creatively interesting that I don’t think I could do it justice. Here I go anyway, in the best way I can think to describe it:
An eccentric millionaire inventor, Roger Hargreeves, finds, and purchases, 7 babies of 43 who have just been born simultaneously to women around the world who previously had no pregnancy symptoms. It transpires these are no ordinary children, no more ordinary than the circumstances of their births. They each have some talent, or superpower, and this millionaire hones them into a supergroup of sorts, called the Umbrella Academy. They live their childhoods under the guise and training of this man, raised together as a family. The events of the graphic novel occur many years later, when they’re all brought back together having gone their separate ways and lived their own lives. And so the Umbrella Academy is reunited to save the world from the impending apocalypse. Standard.
That doesn’t begin to do justice to the excellence of the concept and the characters that have been created here are original, memorable and altogether brilliant. There’s nothing quite like them, and it makes for such a good read as you get connected to them and their individual stories as the novel progresses.
The tone of the graphic novel is evident from the start as it opens with the Academy, as children, fighting alongside each other to defeat… the Eiffel Tower. It has started throwing visitors to their plummeting deaths and the Academy comes flying along to try and save the day. It’s riveting and exciting, and instantly absorbs you into this world and attached to the characters.
That tone is maintained all the way through, maintaining its gritty darkness and interjected with witty dialogue, intelligent plotting and exciting action. The characters and their interactions with each other have been carefully designed and implemented into well-established and unforgettable relationships, as they all interact differently and have their own connection to each of the other characters.
Gerard Way’s story and characters are undeniably brilliant, yes – but in a graphic novel the artwork is what makes or breaks it, and Gabriel Ba has done an amazing job at bringing Way’s concepts to life. The colours always match the tone perfectly, as they go from sombre greys to vibrant explosions of colour (often literally) to suit the mood.
Each of the characters is unique, and memorable in their design – I know Gerard had a big part to play in this, as you can see in these drawings of his included in the last few pages, but Ba makes them explode with life on the page and it’s a treat for the eyes from start to finish.
Words can’t express how much I loved reading this. I’m off to go and buy the next two graphic novels to continue this wonderful experience all over again. Read it, get lost in it, and if you love it as much as I did, check out the Netflix show based on this graphic novel too for another fix of this wonderfully imaginative and wildly original concept.