Available On: Netflix
Most of the comic books created in the latter half of the 20th century and definitely those authored in this century have been so done with a TV or film adaptation in mind. It was only a matter of time before My Chemical Romance lead singer Gerard Way's Eisner Award-winning series The Umbrella Academy got its screen translation. First announced as a film, it finally has dropped as a series on Netflix and maybe that's a good thing but only just.
The big USP of the comic book series The Umbrella Academy was in celebration of the weird in dark, darker, darkest tones. There was unalloyed nerd appeal in the way the reluctant superheroes with strange superpowers band and disband and band again to save the world (but of course!). The eccentricity was infectious as the characters grew on you page after page in Gabriel Ba's delicious artwork.
What the web series The Umbrella Academy does, though, is cut down on the quirks and hold back on the kinks and unleash the madness in short bursts which punctuate the otherwise sedate treatment. Helmed by Steve Blackman, who was one of the creative forces of the TV series Fargo, this new Netflix show invests in its characters and lets the brilliant ensemble cast do the rest.
Things kick off in 1989 when 43 special children are born in different parts of the world to mothers "who were not pregnant when the day began". Billionaire Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) adopts (read: buys) seven of those babies who are eventually raised in his huge gothic mansion by an android nanny (they call her "mother") and a talking chimpanzee butler (Adam Godley)!
They operate as a masked vigilante unit in their teens, each with their own speciality, but one of the seven dies and another time-travels to the future and the Umbrella Academy is shut down. Temporarily, of course! Now with their father dead – under mysterious circumstances – the adopted children reunite. Just that they are not children anymore.
Coming back from his space mission, Luther (Tom Hopper) has filled out the most, thanks to his head being grafted on to a Martian gorilla. Throwing knives everywhere, Diego (David Castaneda) is a self-assigned neighbourhood watch who still wears his eye patch. Gifted with the weirdest superpower of bending reality by just lying about, Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is now a movie star.
Perennially under the influence of narcotics of all kinds, Klaus (Robert Sheehan) can still commune with the dead and that's why he often has Ben (Ethan Hwang), the brother who died, lurking around him. Then there's that Boy (Aidan Gallagher), who had disappeared into the future, who is back as well but he is still a boy, at least physically.
And like a glue to this set of disparate siblings is Vanya (Ellen Page), who has never had any superpowers – or so it seems – leading her to write the book "Extra-Ordinary: My Life as Number Seven", where she revealed a lot of the Hargreeves secrets distancing her from most members of the family.
Besides solving the pressing problem of the world coming to an end – the Boy is back from the future, you see – the Umbrella Academy has other things to take care of, including but not limited to fending off a couple of time-travelling assassins (Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton). But clearly the internal issues of our superheroes far outweigh what's happening around them. As a constant sense of gloom hangs in the air, none of them seem to have been able to shake off their shackled growing up and are in dire need of a therapist or at least a hug.
The deep and dark personal contemplations bundled with the dysfunctional family grudges and grievances are the actual highs of The Umbrella Academy trying to carve out its own eyeball slice from a crowded superhero OTT pie. And it is here that the acting chops of the ensemble come into some good use. Page is expectedly effective but the ones who impress the most are Sheehan as the freakish drug addict and Gallagher as the surly kid in the gang. And who doesn't want to watch Mary J. Blige having a blast as a "tough-minded murderer" in an animal mask?
The other highlight of The Umbrella Academy is the way it uses music not only in the emotional stretches but also in the action setpieces. You've got to see the coffee shop fight sequence cut to Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by They Might Be Giants or just how all the superheroes unwind in their own way to Tifanny's I Think We're Alone Now. The series may not be as kooky as the comic book but it sure has some fine flourish.
Rating: Easy watch, one episode at a time
Another Season? Why Not