Sunday, 10 November 2013

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite is the first professional comic book work of musician Gerard Way. For a debut it is incredibly good. Way has a clear voice as a writer and shows a good understanding of how to put a comic together. Everything from the story’s pacing to cutting between scenes is written as competently as any experienced professional.

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite is also the first major comic book work of artist Gabriel Bá. His work is just as impressive. Clearly heavily inspired by Mike Mignola (Bá went on to work on a B.P.R.D. series in 2009) he enjoys heavy shadows and excels at drawing outlandish grotesques. He handles everything from quiet character moments to action sequences with equal aplomb.

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite opens with a half issue explanation of the general premise and setup. Forty-three babies were spontaneously birthed at the exact same moment, each with special powers. Seven of them were adopted by noted Renaissance man Reginald Hargreeves, known in some circles as The Monocle. His reason for raising them is to train them to save the world.

… And now for a new paragraph that doesn’t begin with the comic’s name.

The plot of the other five and a half issues focuses on an impending End Of The World event triggered by a reunion of the group. It’s here where Way’s ideas become rather heavy, the general premise of an impending apocalypse almost, but not quite, being outweighed by a plague of floating robotic heads, a throwaway villain who’s more plot device than anything else, and a load of unexplained animosity between the adopted siblings. Fair enough not giving us all the answers to that last one helps to build some mystery but to give us nothing at all is ridiculous.

This is far from a perfect comic though. Way has an impressive number of ideas on display, but I can’t help thinking that the book would have been better had it featured one or two less. Nothing is dreadfully underdeveloped but it would have been nice for some things to be fleshed out just a little. This is probably down to the old problem of a first time author wanting to get all their ideas into something in case they never get anything published again. It’s understandable but does detract from some of the book’s better concepts.

It’s no surprise that Grant Morrison wrote a foreword to the collected volume and was quoted as saying it’s “an ultraviolent psychedelic sherbet bomb.” The excess on display is right out of his playbook. But at least Way has the excuse of this being his first piece of work. And for that reason I feel that I may be being a little unfair. It’s rare for someone to write something this good, with such an understanding of the medium, on their first try. Way clearly isn’t just a minor celebrity (he’s the lead singer of My Chemical Romance… which will probably mean something to those of you who take an interest in music) who lucked into getting published. He’s a fan who wants to contribute something to the comic book industry.

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