The original “Umbrella Academy” series was an impressive debut from Gerard Way. It was easily the best rock-star-written comic in the history of mankind, which, honestly, doesn’t tell you a whole lot, since we were never treated to a David Lee Roth-penned run of “Speedball, the Masked Marvel” or Eddie Vedder’s “Guy Gardner, Warrior.” In other words, Way didn’t have a whole lot of competition from the music industry, as far as comics go.
But what was amazing about “Umbrella Academy” (besides Gabriel Ba’s art, which was indeed amazing), was the confidence of the storytelling. It never felt — not for a second — like anything other than a fully-realized, deeply important salvo from a writer who wanted to make great comics. Way wasn’t slumming, or cashing in — he was creating a comic book world in which to express his love for comics. It was six excellent issues, wrapped up neatly and presented to the reader with a note which implied, “comics are pretty awesome, aren’t they?”
“Umbrella Academy: Dallas” might be even better than the first series.
It’s too early to say for sure, since we’re only up to issue #3, but this second “Umbrella Academy” series feels a bit more expansive, a bit more improvisational. I don’t mean to imply that Way is making it up as he goes along — and with time travel as a plot point, it had to be well-constructed ahead of time — but it feels less rigid and uptight than the first series. I know “uptight” seems like a strange way to describe a comic in which a superhero named Spaceboy had the body of a gorilla and the head of a man, but the first series felt very tightly-controlled. Like a Tim Burton film, it was all fine-tuned and hyper-meticulous, as if it were competing in the World’s Most Specific Diorama Competition. As great as the first “Umbrella Academy” series was — and I absolutely loved it — it’s one fault was that it felt a little too boxed in.
This new series doesn’t feel that way at all. It feels like there’s more story than Way and Ba can possibly fit in the pages. They imply that there’s more in the Umbrella Academy’s heaven and earth than we can dream of in our philosophy. It’s not ultra-compressed storytelling which leaves out huge narrative chunks, but it’s a kind of rapid-fire-storytelling in which characters appear and imply a much bigger world than we have yet seen. Hazel and Cha Cha, two temporal enforcers, could have been mere gimmick characters (with their “Reservoir Dogs” meets “Barney” aesthetic), but they are part of a larger, more ominous threat as we discover in issue #3. And Number Five, the diminutive member of the Umbrella Academy team, has a background that’s more far-reaching that we could have ever imagined.
“Umbrella Academy: Dallas” has Gabriel Ba and Dave Stewart’s visuals, and that’s enough to make it worth buying anyway, but Gerard Way is doing some pretty cool things with his little (yet expansive!) comic book world, and if his imagination continues to kick off its shackles, I think this may end up being one of the best series of the year.