For those already familiar with The Umbrella Academy, 2018 was an embarrassment of riches - with the 3rd series of the book, "Hotel Oblivion" being released after a 9-year hiatus, and the announcement that a Netflix adaptation would be heading to screens on February 15th 2019.
For those uninitiated in the ways of The Umbrella Academy, you still have time to catch up before diving into the Netflix show. It is both very strange and very familiar all at the same time. It has modern sensibilities while being wrapped in the kind of visual packaging that wouldn't be out of place on 1960s sci-fi TV shows such as The Prisoner or Lost in Space. It tells the story of a team of (sometimes reluctant) superheroes who were born in mysterious circumstances and come together to save the world, while at the same time also telling the story of how a family copes with grief.
Before you watch the world end on the screen, here's 10 things to know about the Dark Horse comics.
10. It Was Created By Gerard Way
Before My Chemical Romance landed on our radar and collectively caused millions of teenagers' hearts simultaneously explode, Gerard Way had aspirations to write and draw comic books. He graduated New York's School of Visual Arts with a BFA and interned at DC Comics. However - as always happens - he formed a mega-successful rock band and his comics ambitions took a back seat to international music stardom. However, following the release of The Black Parade album in 2007, Way pitched The Umbrella Academy to Dark Horse comics, and two series of the book were released in quick succession between 2007 and 2008, with the third series following in 2018.
9. It Came From An Atomic Flying Elbow
The first issue of the first run - The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite - has a simultaneously awesome and baffling opening scene. Beginning with a splash page by series artist Gabriel Ba, we see a burly, human wrestler jumping from the top ropes of the ring and performing an "Atomic Flying Elbow" on a flailing Space Squid from Rigel X-9. This is an event that has no bearing on the rest of the story, it's just a piece of background flavor - but it's important in that it sets the tone for the entire book. In these couple of opening pages, you're pulled into and prepared to face an off-kilter but still somehow familiar world that Way and Ba have concocted.
8. Sir Reginald Hargreeves Is Very Alien
Sir Reginald Hargreeves A.K.A The Monocle appears to be human, but he's just wearing a mask of a stern elder statesman to hide his extraterrestrial features. We never see what's under the mask - but in truth, we don't need to. Hargreeves is an almost aggressively detached adoptive parent, seeing himself as their commanding officer rather than a father, and refusing to allow the children to call him "Dad". Hargreeves even neglects to provide his adopted children with names, opting to refer to them by numbers instead. Hargreeves always behaves in a manner completely emotionally alien, even if we never see a slathering Xenomorph beneath his fake skin suit.
7. 43 Births, 7 Adoptions, 6 Members
Following the birth of forty-three extraordinary children to mothers who until that very moment hadn't been pregnant, Sir Reginald Hargreeves scooped up seven of them to adopt and train to save the world. Though he brought seven home, only six of these children would be allowed to become members of The Umbrella Academy - the 7th, Vanya, was informed frequently by Hargreeves that there was nothing special about her. What happened to the other thirty-six children, we don't yet know.
The six official members of The Umbrella Academy are #00.01/Spaceboy/Luther Hargreeves, #00.02/The Kraken/Diego Hargreeves, #00.03/The Rumor/Alison Hargreeves, #00.04/The Seance/Klaus Hargreeves, #00.05/Number Five/The Boy, #00.06/The Horror/Ben Hargreeves.
6. The Boy Is Super Old
The Boy is one of the more fully explored central characters of The Umbrella Academy - his backstory being pertinent to the plots of both Apocalypse Suite, and the follow-up series, Dallas.
While his adoptive siblings are aged in their late 20s, The Boy remains in the body of a 10-year-old. To make matters worse, The Boy is actually 60 years old. The reason for this is that at the time they were all 10 years old, The Boy's special power - the manipulation of time - only allowed him to travel forwards through time. He ran away into the far future, and it took him another 50 years to figure out how to travel backward through time - the vagaries of backward time travel causing his body to freeze in its 10-year-old form.
Weird and complicated? Yeah, it gets better/weirder.
5. Chimpanzees Are Important Contributors To Society
Not that we're suggesting for a moment that chimpanzees aren't important contributors to society in the real world, but they're even more so in the universe of The Umbrella Academy. From the outset, we see intelligent, vocally communicative chimpanzees dressed in people clothes, working blue collar jobs. The most important chimp we're introduced to is Dr. Pogo. While his position at The Umbrella Academy seems to be somewhere between a scientist and a teacher, Pogo is actually more of a mentor/father figure that the adopted siblings didn't have in Reginald Hargreeves. Sensitive, smart, and always impeccably dressed - he's more human than most of the people that surround him.
4. Monuments Cannot Be Trusted
Ever look up at a gigantic statue of a historical figure and thought, "if that thing ever comes to life, we're all screwed"? The Umbrella Academy also has trust issues with monuments.
The first mission we see The Umbrella Academy take on is the neutralization of zombie-robot Gustav Eiffel, who has gotten it into his reanimated brain to hijack his eponymous Parisian tower, and launch it like a space rocket (which we all know was its intended use anyway). In another flashback within the second series, Dallas, we see the young Umbrella Academy tasked by John F Kennedy to face off against the rampaging, animate Lincoln Memorial - they assassinate history's most famous top hat and beard combo with a statue of John Wilkes-Booth.
3. Messing with the Time Lines
Monkeying around with the space-time continuum may be kinda old hat and predictable in most sci-fi, but it's something The Umbrella Academy does very well indeed.
Apocalypse Suite sees The Boy heading to the far future, where he finds that the world has ended, how it has ended, and spends the next 50 years trying to go backward in time in order to stop it. Pretty standard so far. But the series goes deeper, seeing The Boy nabbed en route by the Temps Aeternalis - an organization whose entire remit is hiring/creating assassins to ensure history goes precisely as intended.
In the events of Dallas, we find the world of The Umbrella Academy is one in we benefited from John F Kennedy not being assassinated. Then we spend the next several issues watching the Temps Aeternalis trying to change this universe's accepted history into the one that we're familiar with. This is illustrative of what this series does well - it takes tropes that you think you know, and twists them into new shapes.
2. The Ultimate Dysfunctional Family
While this is a book with intriguing science fiction turns and exciting action set pieces, it is the wreck of a relationship this adoptive family has that helps keep us hooked. In fact, this is probably because they are so much like the families most of us already have. Spaceboy went to live on the moon in order to avoid having to have emotional contact with his siblings; The Seance tempers his ability to talk to the dead with self-destructive drug and alcohol usage; while they're attempting to avert the apocalypse, members of the Academy still harbor grudges against their sister Vanya for writing a tell-all book about them. They are petty messes of people - just like you, me, and every other family we know.
1. Hazel and Cha-Cha Are Your New Favorite Psychopaths
The Joker, Rorshach, Mr. Miyagi (okay, that last one is debatable) - we all have our favorite fictional psychopath. That character we low-key admire for their violent disregard for society's norms.
In Hazel and Cha-Cha, Gerard Way has created a pair who take psychopathic behavior to new heights. Had this been a straight crime fiction, their exploits might be uncomfortable to witness, but in this universe, there is joyous abandon which is both fun and disturbing. They're assassins dressed in black suits and ties, their features obscured by enormous colorful mascot heads. They love their jobs, almost as much as they love enormous quantities of candy, and have been known to torture for an apple pie recipe. But then, haven't we all?