WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the first season of The Umbrella Academy, streaming now on Netflix.
Even the most devoted fans of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s acclaimed comic series The Umbrella Academy will discover some surprises in the 10-episode first season of the Netflix adaptation. Most jarring is probably the realization that the quiet young man accompanying Klaus Hargreeves is actually the ghost of his adoptive brother Number Six, aka Ben, who's been dead for years.
Better known to readers as The Horror, Ben is also dead in the comics, but the details surrounding his untimely demise have yet to be revealed. Outside of his memorial statue and the odd flashback, he barely appears at all in the source material. His adaptation into a full-fledged member of the cast, played by Justin H. Min, is an early signal that showrunner Steve Blackman’s series promises to take some interesting departures. And despite that the character says so little on the show, his very existence has a significant impact on the story.
In the comics, Ben’s nickname, “The Horror,” refers to the otherworldly creatures he can summon from a portal beneath his skin, which is only glimpsed on the Netflix series. His death remains a mystery that, like the character himself, is downplayed in a season packed with an imminent apocalypse, time-traveling assassins, emotional abuse and family dysfunction.
However, we get to know a few key things about him, including that he, like adoptive brother Klaus (Robert Sheehan), didn’t enjoy the superpower fate dealt him.
“I think growing up, Ben was afraid of his power and he hated using it,” Emmy Raver-Lampman, who plays Allison Hagreeves, told CBR during a recent press event. “And so was Klaus, and so I think their powers seemingly felt like a burden to them.”
Given what we learn about Reginald Hargreeves’ parenting style, Ben serves as yet another, albeit more tragic, example of how destructive the children's upbringing was.
That’s why his partnership with Klaus, who can communicate with the dead, resonates so well. Given what we see in the traumatic flashbacks Klaus has of his time undergoing “training” (think the dumbwaiter scene in The Sixth Sense, but much longer), both he and Ben had uniquely terrifying childhoods. It’s not difficult to see why they would’ve had a closer relationship with each other than they did with Allison, Luther or Diego, the lucky siblings gifted with fun powers like reality manipulation, super-strength and unerring aim.
Unseen by everyone else, Ben serves as a sort of one-spirit Greek chorus to the frequently drug-addled Klaus, questioning his many irrational actions and offering commentary on his decisions. Although Ben has attached himself to Klaus, for obvious (and perhaps not-so-obvious) reasons, he becomes more involved in Hargreeves family affairs as the season nears its conclusion.
That said, we shouldn't overstate the attention paid to the Ben-Klaus relationship; most of the other characters receive more screen time than they do. But giving them an emotional base early on will no doubt ground their storyline in the second season. Season 1 ends with Klaus and Ben realizing they can interact in new, interesting, and life-saving ways. Presumably we’ll see more of that, and hopefully enjoy a more talkative Ben. However, his Season 1 role could also hint at what we can expect from future volumes of the comic.
“Very early on we had some discussions, and he had me meet the writers,” Way told recently told CBR about collaborating with Blackman on the Netflix series. “They asked me a bunch of questions, [and] I created this document that spelled everything out in terms of what happens, from Graphic Novel 1 all the way to Graphic Novel 8. We’re only on three right now, so there’s some more planned.”
That the show's writers saw plans for the comic five installments out means some of the new elements in Season 1 of the Netflix adaptation could later appear in the comics.
Whether that means Comics Hazel will eventually take off his mask and marry a diner waitress or if Comics Ben will reveal himself to Klaus remains to be seen. But given the close collaborative relationship between Way and Blackman, it feels likely there will be some correlation, and Ben’s appearance in future comics would look somewhat familiar.
Arriving Friday on Netflix, The Umbrella Academy stars Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, David Castañeda, Aidan Gallagher, Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige.