WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy Season 1, streaming now on Netflix.
The trailers for Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy teased a world that looks remarkably close to that of the acclaimed Dark Horse comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, right down to the adorable domino masks the heroes wore as children. But, as with any adaptation, there are significant deviations from the source material, either to take advantage of new storytelling opportunities or to expand on what's already there.
The overarching plot, which merges elements from the 2007-2008 The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite with some of those from its 2008-2009 sequel, Dallas, remains relatively unchanged, with an estranged, dysfunctional family of superheroes reuniting following the death of their adoptive father to try to stop the end of the world. However, some of the characters are altered for television, to the benefit of the story.
Showrunner/Exectuve Producer Steve Blackman created an adaptation that, for the most part, will deepen your experience of the comics without straying too far from what made them popular. What follows is an overview of the major differences between the Netflix series and the comics, with insights from Blackman, Way and star Ellen Page.
This one’s kind of a gimme. Obviously, the depiction of Ben Hargreeves on the television series is a significant departure from the comics, because Number Six (aka The Horror) is only shown in flashback in the source material. He'ss dead in both versions, however. The decision to include him, as a ghost who can communicate with Klaus, results in an even more layered family dynamic as he's frequently present when is adoptive brother is, watching the action while his other siblings remain oblivious.
Season 1 doesn’t reveal whether he hangs around because Klaus is the only human who can communicate with him, because wants to be near family, because he has nowhere else to go, or some combination of that. But his understated presence on the fringes of the action may serve as a low-key preview for what’s to come in Season 2. Especially given what he and Klaus discover in the season finale.
In the comics, Vanya starts out as the same lonely, outcast violinist who alienated her family by writing a tell-all memoir about growing up with them. It also turns out that her father, Sir Reginald Hargreeves, did indeed keep the truth of her own power from her, and gave her pills to suppress it. But the series builds upon that to explore the years of emotional torment Vanya endured before and after her father isolated her from the rest of her siblings’ training. The beats of The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite miniseries are present in Season 1, but like so many other elements of the comic, deepened in their adaptation.
More superficially, the image of Vanya after her transformation into the White Violin is one of the comics’ most memorable, but the Netflix series goes in a different direction. Star Ellen Page, who played a huge role in determining Vanya’s wardrobe, told CBR during a recent press event how monumental that was for her as an actor.
“I’ve never worked on something that’s this sort of scale where, this’ll sound so simple, but it’s major -- especially to me -- and personal: no questions in terms of how I wanted this character to dress,” she said. “You can only imagine the shit that’s been said to me and the situations that I’ve been in, the stuff that still happens. I’m still in shock about [the creative control]. That really blew me away, and [was] also a testament to Steve Blackman.”
LEONARD PEABODY/THE CONDUCTOR
Instead of Vanya being transformed into the White Violin by the demonic conductor of a villainous orchestra, the Netflix adaptation introduces her to the nebbish Leonard Peabody.
“I really thought that Vanya needed a grounded guy, a grounded villain, somebody [you] didn’t necessarily see coming,” Blackman told CBR.
Played by John Magaro (Overlord, Orange Is the New Black), Leonard becomes Vanya’s love interest in an effort to unlock and control the latent abilities that Sir Reginald kept from her. “Ellen really felt strongly that we wanted to find somebody that was worthy of how [Vanya] was pretty psychology manipulated," Blackman said. "Someone who knew the rule book of her life. He gets [Hargreeves’] notes, so he knows all of her secrets. It’s meant to be uncomfortable.”
Similar to Ben, Mom has an analog in the comics, and the biggest difference between the two is that we get a lot more of Grace Hargreeves pn the television series. Played by Jordan Clare Robbins, she’s a more complete robotic unit that has a much closer and more organically maternal relationship to the Hargreeves children than we see in the comics. But that doesn’t mean the comics won’t take a page from the series and update Mom down the road.
“Steve [Blackman] added a lot to the character of Mom,” Gerard Way said to CBR. “There is actually a lot we’re gonna get out of her in the comics. She does have a tremendous amount of backstory. But we still haven’t seen a whole lot of that. We’re gonna start to see more of her backstory, but a lot of that for the show came from Steve. He really fleshed her out.”
CHA-CHA AND HAZEL
The time-traveling assassins who pursue Number Five and, later, Klaus in the comics, get a lot more runway on the show. Instead of remaining faceless, sociopathic killers who delight in the “torture” and “murder” aspects of their job, Cha-Cha and Hazel cultivate a more sedate, odd-couple dynamic, thanks in part to the casting Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton.
The two actors have excellent chemistry that fuels their narrative as the season moves on. That we can see their faces makes for one of the biggest changes from the comic, but their evolution from soulless killing machines to friends and co-workers who happen to murder people for a living is even bigger.
The Umbrella Academy’s friend on the police force, Inspector Lupo, dramatically changed from page to screen. The mustachioed Commissioner Gordon-like character is now a woman, Detective Patch, who’s also an erstwhile love interest for Diego. (It’s worth noting, too, that any romantic stirrings the comic alludes to between Diego and Vanya are non-existent on the show).
Portrayed by Ashley Madekwe (Revenge), Patch plays a key role in solving one of the season’s many mysteries early on.