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The Umbrella Academy Review: Break Up with Hollywood’s Superheroes & Binge This Show

Umbrella Academy
Photo Credit: Netflix

Put on a pot of coffee. Curl up with a box of doughnuts. Blast some synthpop and hold your loved one tight like the end is nigh. You’re gonna be binging Umbrella Academy all Valentine’s Day weekend long.

Between all the clean cut, glossy or gritty, brooding superheroes gracing our screens, both small and big, the genre is becoming exhausting. Netflix’s dwindling Marvel universe can only be kept alive by so many hallway fights. If the CW Arrowverse was anymore saccharine and cheesy, high cholesterol would reach epidemic proportions. Marvel and DC’s cinematic universes have no stakes when everyone can literally be snapped out of existence and be brought back, or when two god-like dudes can cause genocidal amounts of collateral damage and become besties over their mothers’ shared name.

Our beloved Hollywood superheroes have no stakes, no chemistry, no romance, and take themselves way too damn seriously. Netflix is here to course correct with Umbrella Academy, a perfectly balanced introduction for any DCEU-CW/MCU fan to the bizarre, existential, flawed, underbelly of living with superpowers.

Umbrella Academy follows a once publicly adored team of disenfranchised, adopted super-powered siblings, who as adults, are reunited upon the death of their emotionally negligent super-scientist and adventurer father. They now are trying to piece back together some semblance of family and purpose with only a week to stop the apocalypse.

Umbrella Academy, created by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá debuted under the Dark Horse label in 2007. It took inspiration from the greats such as Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, and quickly established itself amongst the ranks of indie comic book darlings. It should be said loud and clear to anyone looking to dive into this series on Friday, should absolutely read Gerard Way’s masterfully written comics (if not for Bá’s zany, mod artwork alone), but only afterwards if spoilers are a problem. This is because Netflix’s live-action counterpart is 95% Apocalypse Suite (the first arc of the comics) and 5% Dallas (the second arc) — but this isn’t to suggest the series has nothing new to offer long-time readers.

All the usual suspects and fan favorites are here. Luther (Tom Hopper), the outer space faring, wannabe-Superman. Diego (David Castaneda), the knife-throwing, wannabe-Batman. Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), the starlet who, despite being able to literally bend reality by spreading rumors alone, ended up a lonely divorcee. Klaus (Robert Sheehan), the drug-induced ghost whisperer and living love letter to Way’s fans from his days as MCR’s frontman. No. 5 (Aidan Gallagher), time-traveling harbinger of the apocalypse and the Academy’s de facto leader who is also an impulsive teenager with the consciousness of a grumpy old man. Then there’s plain Jane violinist Vanya (Ellen Page), the powerless black sheep of the family.

With the exception of a few set pieces and Klaus’ undead entourage, fans of the comic will be quick to notice a lack of retro-futuristic motif, or over-the-top slapstick violence in Netflix’s live-action adaptation. But what the show lacks in aesthetic accuracy, it makes up for in more fully-formed character development and relationships, something that was fairly limited due to the comics short run with only six issues per story arc.

Umbrella Academy
Photo Credit: Netflix

The angsty, quirky romances will be a huge draw for those more used to a brighter CW series, while the interplay of time travel, the afterlife, and futility of an impending apocalypse will appeal to the sci-fi sensibilities of nerds looking for something refreshing. Most notable is the show’s inability to take itself too seriously and its ability to suspend disbelief. There are no origin stories, tragic backstories, or heavy-handed exposition. The Umbrella Academy inhabit an alternate timeline where super science and superheroes have come and gone, and are now nothing more than childhood has-beens

The cast shines in their roles as comedically self-absorbed, scattered adults brimming with daddy issues. However, Robert Sheehan and Aidan Gallagher are the series’ respective standouts as the sarcastic, pill-popping medium Klaus and the cool, calculated sociopath No. 5. The time traveling hitmen duo Hazel and Cha-Cha, played by Mary J Blige and Cameron Britton, may deviate greatly from the two-dimensional, sugar-high maniacs of the source material, but are charmingly rewritten as a bickering old, buddy cop couple, disillusioned by the bureaucratic red tape of their employers.

Umbrella Academy
Photo Credit: Netflix

Just like the comic book industry of the ’80s and ’90s, Hollywood is going through the growing pains of superhero fatigue and it’s starting to show. HBO has a Watchmen series underway. Legion is closing out on a high note with a third and final season. Amazon is cooking up an adaptation of The Boys. Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol is getting the streaming service treatment as well. Even Rick and Morty took a jab at the Avengers. Everyone is looking to poke holes in the capes and cowls gracing our silver screens

TV and film have started looking to the deconstructed super weirdos of indie comics, and Netflix is ahead of the game. Umbrella Academy is the romantic, gothy, dark comedy answer to all the holier-than-thou, silver screen capes and cowls that will leave us shoe gazing to Tiffany for days.

Rating: 9 jelly-filled doughnuts with sprinkles out of 10.

The Umbrella Academy premieres on Netflix on Friday February 15.

Alisha Weinberger
Alisha Weinberger
Alisha Weinberger is a comic book, video game, and animation enthusiast and critic. Along with comic reviews, she also maintains The Pop Break twitter feed. Alisha thoroughly enjoys the warm embrace of coffee, says "dawg" and "dope" ad nauseam, and shares a reluctant resemblance to Tina Belcher.

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