The Umbrella Academy: Dallas

by on Oct.02, 2009, under Comics

UADAL coverGerard Way is the lead singer of My Chemical Romance. He is also the writer of The Umbrella Academy. It’s worth the effort it takes to keep the first fact from prejudicing you against the second.

The first volume of The Umbrella Academy, Apocalypse Suite, was a tight little story that introduced a cast of superheroes with an updated Fantastic Four vibe to them. Not in their powers or aesthetic, but in the comic’s focus on their family drama as the plot’s primary motive force. The gang reunites for the funeral of their adopted father and immediately has to stop their hitherto-powerless sister Vanya from destroying the world.

The book’s appeal came in equal part from Way’s absurdist streak and artist Gabriel Bá’s effortless execution of absurd ideas. In the opening pages of the book the Academy, then kids, saves Paris from Zombie Gustav Eiffel; Vanya gains her terrible powers as a living violin at the hands of “The Orchestra Verdammten.” Spaceboy, the quasi-leader, gets in such a hideous accident that his father must transplant his head onto the body of a giant semirobotic gorilla, an image Bá obviously takes great pleasure in drawing. Call it Fantastic Four with a heavy dose of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol.

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Dallas, the second volume, is somewhat less assured. As Way writes in a postscript, Apocalypse Suite established the team’s identity in a story that stood alone, but Dallas is the first true installment of The Umbrella Academy as an ongoing comic, one that Way says he envisions lasting at least six or seven volumes more. And while Way has the big-picture middle and ending in mind, he’s coming up with the adventures to keep the story moving on the fly.

It’s a dynamic familiar to television fans: each episode needs to do something to advance the continuing plot while at the same time providing its own self-contained narrative arc.

In this case that arc centers around Number Five, the time-traveling brother. In Apocalypse Suite he returned home after a lifetime marooned in a postapocalyptic future, a sixty-year-old man trapped by a quirk of time reversal in the body of his ten-year-old self. In Dallas, we learn that on his way home he was snatched out of time altogether and trained by a genius-level goldfish to be the world’s most lethal time-hopping assassin. He was supposed to shoot JFK but rebelled; now the goldfish and his minions are back to compel him to finish the job.

Parts of the book simply don’t work. With Hazel and Cha-Cha, for example, a pair of Hello Kitty-faced sociopaths on Number Five’s trail, Way indulges in extreme violence as punch line, something I never like, not from him, Garth Ennis, or Quentin Tarantino. There’s an international billionaire mogul named Tor Perseus whose schemes don’t seem to connect to anything else in the plot. I assume they will in the future, but Way doesn’t give us any hints how, nor any reason why those pages couldn’t simply appear as expository background when they do finally become relevant. He has no problem with extended flashback sequences otherwise. All in all it feels scattershot, with too many elements popping in and out.

Yet there’s still enough to like that I want to stick with it to see where all this is heading. Unfortunately, we may not get the chance. Reception to the issues that make up Dallas was apparently much cooler than to the first batch, because, as my comic book guy says, “It didn’t seem to be going anywhere.” Sales have fallen off. I fear The Umbrella Academy could end up like Dark Angel: a great concept, some strong elements, some missteps, ultimately not enough ratings to tell its whole story.

Preview below the fold.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Carri

    Where did you get your digital images of Dallas? Did the Minutemen BHM & Resin digitize the series, like they did Apocalypse Suite? If so, PLEASE tell me where to find it. Thanks!

  • Joshua Malbin

    Sorry, I just ganked the preview pages they have up at the Dark Horse site.

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