‘The Umbrella Academy’ Is a Worthy Addition to the Superhero Genre

Image via Netflix.

This past Friday, Netflix aired the television adaption of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s comic book series The Umbrella Academy with the super powered and super dysfunctional Hargreeve siblings. You can see the trailer here. Without the benefit of any superheroes with the brand name recognition of Marvel or DC’s offerings, The Umbrella Academy only has Gerard Way’s membership in My Chemical Romance as a draw in, but it still stands on its own merits.

Warning: The following article contains spoilers for Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.

The premise of The Umbrella Academy is that in October of 1989, forty-three women gave birth when they had not started their mornings pregnant. Sir Reginald Hargreeves, an eccentric billionaire, convinced seven of those mothers to sell him their children and six of those children proved to have extraordinary powers and became the inaugural class of the Umbrella Academy. Hargreeves devoted his “adopted” children’s childhoods into turning them into a superhero team worthy of saving the world. Unfortunately, he cared little about their own emotional well being (he didn’t even give them proper names, that job went to their humanoid robot mother). Seventeen years after the public was introduced to these teenage superheroes, the surviving Umbrella Academy “siblings” and their one non-powered sibling have became an estranged, dysfunctional mess who get pulled back together when Reginald is found dead, possibly murdered. There’s little time for the Hargreeves to deal with their feelings about their horrible father figure being gone, because the sibling that vanished after attempted to time travel went wrong turns up, still looking like a thirteen-year-old, and tells them that the world is ending in eight days.

Without a traditional super villain like in most superhero tales, The Umbrella Academy relies more on characters who have to fight through their own personal demons in order to be functional enough to save the world, and the Hargreeves all have issues aplenty as viewers soon discover.

Number One/Luther Hargreeves (Tom Hopper): Luther could easily be written off as the typical super strength leader of the team, but it’s deeper than that. When the other siblings split, Luther stayed behind until a mission gone bad left him on death’s door. Reginald saved him, but there were consequences, like having the upper body of a man-ape. Luther has been hiding out power brooding on the moon for four years when he gets news of Reginald’s death. He also has had a huge thing for his adopted sister, Allison. Of all the siblings, he is the most invested in looking into Reginald’s possible murder.

Number Two/Diego Hargreeves (David Castañeda): Every superhero team needs their violent hot head, and Diego with his phenomenal knife-throwing skills is the Hargreeve with that role. When Reginald dies, he’s the one who has still been out in the world acting as a vigilante, complete with the leather costume. He washed out of the police academy years before and messed up his one serious adult relationship. Diego’s also the one with the closest bond to Grace, their android mother.  

Number Three/Allison Hargreeves (Emmy Raver-Lampman): Allison appears to have the amazing life of a famous actress, but it’s been falling to pieces around her. Her ability let’s her use persuasion against people whenever she poses something as a rumor. It’s caused her plenty of personal problems as she blew up her marriage when her husband caught her using her powers on her daughter to deal with typical challenging toddler behavior. Allison lost custody of her daughter and is reluctant to use her abilities knowing that they can come with consequences. Her feelings for her adopted brother Luther also weigh on her.

Number Four/Klaus Hargreeves (Robert Sheehan): Sheehan is one of those favorite under appreciated actors who really shines as the troubled Klaus. Klaus can talk to and conjure up the deceased, but the deceased are traumatizing to deal with. Reginald once locked up teenage Klaus in a crypt to master his fear over his abilities – now Klaus just wants to avoid them as much as possible as a result. Self-medicating on alcohol and recreational drugs keeps the dead away, and Klaus’s real superpower appears to be the fact that he hasn’t managed to have a fatal overdose considering how he’s more or less perpetually inebriated/high. His dead sibling, Ben, also hangs around like a particularly morbid Jiminy Cricket. Things always get particularly insane when Klaus gets dragged into the action.

Number Five (Aidan Gallagher): The only Hargreeve without a proper name for reasons unknown. Five can jump through space with ease, but got stuck in the future after an attempt to time jump went wrong and he discovered that the world way going to end eight days after Reginald’s death. He spent decades stuck alone in that post-apocalyptic wasteland with only a mannequin (Delores) for company until he was recruited by an organization that fights to keep timelines from being unaltered. Five plays by his own rules to the aggravation of said organization, and manages to come back to his siblings with the mind of someone who is fifty-eight in a thirteen-year-old body (time travel is tricky). While aware he is as messed-up as his adopted siblings, Five simply does not have time for wallowing in daddy issues because the world is not going to save itself. If trying to rein in his siblings dysfunction enough to save in the world isn’t bad enough. a pair of time traveling assassins are trying to prevent him from stopping the incoming apocalypse. Gallagher is absolutely amazing as a younger actor holding his own with the adult actors around him and it’s easy to forget that he isn’t actually an old man in a teenager’s body.

Number Six/Ben Hargreeves (Justin H. Min): Ben has the ability to summon other dimension creatures with tentacles aplenty from his chest. He violently died in an unspecified incident that happened before Reginald passed but after Five vanished. His spirit lingers around Klaus though, trying to act as a voice of reason with varying success.

Number Seven/Vanya Hargreeves (Ellen Page): Vanya has not enjoyed being the extra ordinary Hargreeve with no powers. Reginald always treated her like a second class citizen, never considering her part of the Umbrella Academy, and she was often left out of things her siblings were part of. A young Vanya even uses a marker to draw an Umbrella Academy logo on her wrist while her teenage siblings were forced to get them tattooed on their wrists. She channeled her angst into a tell-all book about her family, angering all of her siblings. Professionally, Vanya lingers as third chair in the orchestra she plays the violin in. But Vanya actually has the most extraordinary and dangerous abilities of all of her siblings, and there are huge repercussions when the truth about what she is capable comes out.

The plot line of The Umbrella Academy hits just the right balance of outrageous quirk and darkness. The dysfunction the Hargreeves suffer is justified and roots the story, but the weird nature of their mysterious births and time travel helps viewers to take the more zany aspects of the plot in stride. The fight scenes are incredibly well done and backed up with soundtrack that is both amazing and slightly insane around the edges, the perfect foil for matching the show’s tone. The plot pays attention to details, and the little stuff is woven nicely into the overall story arc. This is a show you don’t want to watch casually. Enough big questions are answered by the end of the season, but some overall questions about how Reginald knew these kids would be special and just what caused those women to have such miracle pregnancies are left open. Hopefully these will be answered in further offerings. I “heard a rumor” that based on the cliffhanger season finale, you’ll want another season of the Hargreeves world saving dysfunction.

If you’re a fan of Netflix’s Marvel shows, but like a good dash of the weird and outrageous, The Umbrella Academy is a show you should look into. Sometimes it’s nice to see the lesser known comics getting their turn to shine, and The Umbrella Academy does just that.

Have you watched The Umbrella Academy yet? What were your thoughts?

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