"The Umbrella Academy" is the brainchild of My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way. The first miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, "Apocalypse Suite," features art by Gabriel Ba ("Casanova"), covers by James Jean ("Fables") and tells the story of a group of one-time superheroes reunited in the wake of the death of their adoptive father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves. Some 30 years earlier, Hargreeves-- a space alien incognito as a famous entrepreneur -- had adopted seven superpowered newborns with the stated purpose of training them to save the world. The heroes came to be known as Spaceboy, the Kraken, the Rumor, the Seance, the Future, the Horror and Vanya Hargreeves. Sir Reginald's failures as a father left the half-siblings as anything but a tight-knit group, but after his funeral, the members of the Umbrella Academy were called upon once again to save the world, and the dysfunctional family was forced to learn to work together towards a common goal.
Starting with this week's "The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite" #3, CBR News will be checking in with series edtor Scott Allie and Gerard Way every month, bringing you exclusive preview pages of upcoming issues and discussions of what's in store for the members of the Umbrella Academy. This week, Allie and Way give readers some insights into the action-packed third issue, on stands this Wednesday, November 21.
Scott Allie: In the opening scene in issue #3, we start with a flashback, which is kind of something we're doing in a number of the issues. Tell the kids something about that.
Gerard Way: Does issue #2 have a flashback? I'm trying to remember now. Yes, it does, but it's a weird kind of flashback -- a flashback to the future. So it's been a while since we've seen them as kids, and I know you and I had discussed maybe going back to that. Initially I wanted to show them still as kids but at least having operated for a few years, or in action, so it's less of an introduction. And it's also a much shorter flashback that has something to do with exactly what's going on in issue #3. I wanted to really show the moment where things started to get a lot darker for them, even as children; where it stopped being, like, fun and "Let's go fight the Eiffel Tower," and "we're superpowerful," and that's really what we're showing here.
We're also showing one of their old villains, named Dr. Terminal, who is this guy who has a disease called Eisenstein Syndrome, and it basically eats away your body, so he designed this device -- he's a robotics doctor-- and he designs this device that eats matter and turns it into energy and the energy feeds the disease. So he could eat anything he wants, like bricks, but he prefers to kind of eat his victims. So the reveal that you're going to see is actually pretty much the moment where, for them, as children, things get very serious, and I would almost say it's kind of like the beginning of things going wrong for them.
SA: And there's a real shocking moment in that, and I remember in talking about it when we figured out that it could be page 2, so page 2 is not just a shocking image, but it's a real surprise to anybody who's already read the first couple of issues. And I think the ghastliness of it will kind of surprise people, because the book has seemed somewhat light-hearted so far.
GW: Right, that's another good point, too. It's very ghastly. The book has been very light-hearted, even though it deals with death in issue #2 it's still all very light. Even when you see the end of the world in issue #2, it's kind of horrific, but it's not. So this is the kind of thing where it's really showing the reader that the team's really not afraid to go that far with it, because even though it's an all-ages book, it's definitely not a kid's book. So that was a really good kind of color to show right away, that we're not afraid to show stuff like this in the book. Especially happening to children, I think that's the hardest thing about it.
SA: Yeah, the fact that it's a ten or eleven-year-old girl. So the flashback is only three pages, and then there's a really cool setup that you did, where at the end of the flashback there's a question that gets asked. The villain is talking about a question that he was asked, and he never gets to finish the story, so he never gets to tell what his answer to the question was. And the name of this issue is "Dr. Terminal's Answer," so we get that answer in the form of this huge battle. Issue #3 is real heavy on action; it's probably the most heavy on action we're going to get until the final issue, right?
GW: Yeah, and it comes pretty quickly to the team, they're barely even a team again, they're really not a team, they don't see themselves as one, they've just been to their father's funeral.
SA: They're not a team at all, and they have totally different ideas about what they're doing there, and Spaceboy thinks that they're back to what they were as kids, and nobody else is ready for that.
GW: Yeah, nobody at all is ready for that. They're all in their 30's now with a totally different set of problems. Most of them haven't even used their abilities in a while and they're definitely not ready for it, and they're definitely not excited about it or gung ho about it at all. This issue's really just a brawl. It's interesting in the regard that there's two different things happening at the same time, which is, when last we left the team, the Kraken had already run off on his own to go deal with this himself.
SA: Right, we know that at the end of issue #2, the carnival is being attacked and set on fire by these robots, which Spaceboy identifies as the Terminauts, right? So, yeah, the robots are attacking the carnival, which is Morrison Park, right? And yeah, the Kraken took off on his own, and now Space and Rumor and Séance have shown up to join the fight, but they can't find Kraken, and Space is the only one that's really much use in a right.
GW: Right, yeah, totally. And I guess we should take this moment to talk about the Terminauts. They went through probably the biggest evolution of any single character.
SA: Yeah, when we do the ultimate collection of this whole thing, the sketchbook section is going to be amazing, and it's going to be half full of Terminaut designs.
GW: Yeah, pretty much, I think [artist Gabriel Ba] had done about four or five pages or something.
SA: Oh, yeah, more than that -- and it changed so much. The first versions look nothing like what we wound up with, because he just kept cranking out completely revised versions. Yeah, that was a great thing, and that's always a great thing working with an artist who's willing to just do a hundred designs to find the right one.
GW: That was one of the amazing parts. Gabriel had such a passion for it that he didn't mind just cranking out drawing after drawing of these things until we finally got them right. And the final version ended up being completely different than what I had originally drawn, totally different, and I was more than okay with that because I loved it. I think Gabriel understood the absurdity of the characters more than I did. They were originally totally inspired by the Daleks from "Dr. Who," just these loud, abrasive, obnoxious killer robots, and even more absurd than the Daleks was what I wanted to make the Terminauts. And I think the original drawings that I had done they kind of looked like disembodied torsos and heads of the Phantom Zone guardians from "Superman II."
SA: They looked like Maximilian from "Black Hole."
GW: The funny thing is, Gabriel's take on them was more like the other robots from "Black Hole." And I actually wanted these robots to feel kind of very like "Heavy Metal Magazine," '70s, '80s European Science Fiction, and that's the kind of the feeling that I wanted, and Gabriel was totally going to be able to nail that.
SA: Your original designs were kind of "cooler" in a way; that's what somebody would go for in a movie. But what Gabriel did was so crazy, which is more what we're trying to do in this book, we're trying to not just do what's predictable, or not just do what people are going to want to see on TV. We're doing a lot of things that you're not going to be able to see in a regular movie or a TV show.
GW: I think it's funny for the readers to know that out of every single character --we're talking the Conductor, we're talking the Orchestra, everybody-- the most artwork produced was for the Terminauts. And they're really only in this issue.
SA: That's the thing; the Terminauts are not what this series is about. This is the fight that warms everything up. And with a six-issue series with a pretty direct story, there's still a lot of room for little diversions, or big diversions, I mean, in a way, so much of this issue is taking them on a different route. I don't even know how that got planned into it.
GW: I know we needed something, I think that's what we had started talking about. Right about issue #2, when I started scripting that, we realized we needed something to happen to cut away from what was actually going on, even though we were already cutting away a ton with Vanya and the Orchestra, and back at the house, we needed something else, we needed some kind of action. Or else this was just going to be a story of really strange characters hanging around coffins talking. And we couldn't really have that, so we needed to get them moving, and you really needed to see what these characters are capable of.
SA: The fight with the Terminauts really reveals what they're all about as individuals, because they don't all just step up and act like superheroes, only really two of them act like superheroes and the other two kind of fall apart.
GW: Right, and it's the two members of the family that have been acting like superheroes basically for the last ten years anyway. The Kraken I would say more so than Space, because Space has just been really hanging out on the Moon waiting for something to happen, and Kraken's really the only one that's been down there doing anything, and so that character has this kind of sense of purpose, he feels like he's definitely better than the rest of the family because he's still doing it.
SA: You know, the extent of the action here with these four characters fighting these weird little robots with laser blasts and missiles and bombs and stuff... Gabriel's not really a superhero artist, he's never done this sort of thing before, and that was a lot of fun. He struggled with it and he actually kind of griped about it more than he usually does, and the thing that revealed so much about the kind of artist Gabriel is was he kept saying, "It's so hard to come up with a fresh way to show a fight like this, it's so hard to come up with another new angle that really makes it feel like something different." Hey, man, that's what makes this stuff great is that most guys aren't necessarily doing that, most guys are like, "Oh, Kirby did this really well, I'll kind of do what he did." And Gabriel, I really feel like he was real inventive throughout the action sequence.
GW: He was, and he tried to find a brand new way to show you something like that, which is essentially something you've seen before, which is fine. The purpose of it isn't to show you something new right there, it's just to show you a new reaction to something that's happened before, that doesn't change the fact that it still needs to happen. And so yeah, he wasn't looking at anything for reference or anything for action-wise, he just did it himself.
SA And he nailed it.
GW: Yeah, he did. And switching between two scenes like that back and forth with two sets of robots, two sets of characters.
SA: What we're talking about, what the readers won't know yet is that in the fight in the carnival, the heroes get separated, and one part of the fight is conducted in this real kind of dark, Batman kind of way, in shadows and in hiding, and another part of the fight is very colorful, very out in the open, and much more like the kind of fight you'd expect to see the Avengers or the JLA in, with everything blowing up and people shooting laser bolts at each other. So yeah, cutting back and forth, they're both fighting robots, but it's this completely different tone, and Gabriel can move back and forth so well.
GW: Right, right, he nails it. And he at the same time makes it a lot of fun.
SA: And as it wraps up, this is the issue that really sets up everything that's going to go real wrong for the Umbrella Academy. We have that scene where we get back to the musical theater, and we find the Conductor, and I guess this is really the hint at what his plans are, what his plot is, and he finally gets in his hands the thing that's going to cause so much trouble for them.
GW: Yeah, this is pretty much the moment where the Conductor gets exactly what he wants, and from some of the reactions that I heard from the readers, I think readers were almost expecting this to happen, seeing it going this way. Still, a pretty big surprise about how it unfolds and what actually happens when it unfolds, going to pretty much shock readers when issue #4 comes out. And I think people kind of saw this coming, and that's okay. There's definitely some things sometimes where readers see something coming, you want them to kind of see it coming, and you want it to actually happen, because you need that set in place, and this is one of those things. And we still probably shouldn't give anything away for people who haven't figured out what's going to happen at this point. But this is where stuff really sets into motion for the villain.
SA: This is the issue that has [Becky Cloonan's] pin-up in it, we put that after the letter column in the back.
GW: That was awesome.
SA: When we were in New York, Becky Cloonan came to one of the signings.
GW: John, who maintains the "Umbrella Academy" MySpace page, had put up this pin-up that Becky Cloonan had done, and she had sent it, I think, the morning of the book launch, which was really awesome, and she was just really excited for the book and for Gabriel -- they're friends and everything. So she's really proud and excited for him and did this amazing pinup of the Kraken. And I think we were on our way over to the signing on the ferry and had seen this, and it was really, really awesome.
SA: I think when we saw her at [New York comics retailer] Forbidden Planet, I asked her if we could put [her drawing] in the book.
GW: I love it. You know, she really nails that character.
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