11 February, 2009

Review: The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

The death of their mentor reunites a fractious group of estranged superheroes for a new challenge.

Few comics in recent years have attracted so much critical excitement and popular adoration as The Umbrella Academy. Undoubtedly, one reason for this is that it is written by Gerard Way, lead singer of rock group
My Chemical Romance.

Way is by no means a dilletante, idly turning his hand to a quaint medium. Before rock called, Way went to art school, aiming to work in comics and produced original artwork for the series; he has since gone on to write on Spiderman and other comics titles and The Umbrella Academy is now into its second series.

Brazilian artist Gabriel Ba was draughted in to illustrate The Umbrella Academy. His line work is reminiscent of Duncan Fegredo's work on Hellboy, angular, clean and simple, but never terse or mechanical, thanks to its hand-drawn style.

Ba shares with Fegredo the good fortune to have his work coloured by Dave Stewart (who coloured Fegredo's art in
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt). Stewart's colouring looks like overlaid cutouts of craft paper in muted tones, with occasional bright hues (as above). The result is textured, atmospheric and stunning.

The story concerns a seven orphaned mutants raised to be a super team, by the eccentric and steely Sir Reginald Hargreeves. Years later, long since estranged from one another, they gather for Hargreeves's funeral, and before long sibling tensions surface. Before long they are saving the world.

The Umbrella Academy is quirky without being affected or mannered. It does not break genres, and it recalls many other comics, but (in its emphasis on family dynamics and emotional relationships) there is a tenderness to its storytelling. This is not to say there is not plenty of action and adventure, but here is a rare example of a comic which
- like a great superhero team - is greater than the sum of its parts.