Welcome to The Umbrella Academy
Of all the rock stars involved with comic books, it could be said that Gerard Way is among the most dedicated and hardworking. Way was the vocalist for the highly successful rock band known as My Chemical Romance for 12 years, and though he continues to make music, his first love was unquestionably the world of comics.
Since his childhood, he has written many different stories, going so far as to publish a few titles in his high school years under the name Gary Way. After that, he pitched ideas to Cartoon Network, designed a few action figures, and started a rock band whose music incorporated many of the themes he learned from the graphic novels he grew up with. In recent years, he’s created Peni Parker and SP//dr, produced several original titles, and even run an imprint of DC Comics called Young Animal.
Of the countless ideas he’s come up with, The Umbrella Academy, first launching in 2007, was his breakout success in comics. Set in a dark, psychedelic world of talking apes and other weird ideas, the Eisner Award winning series is fronted by unforgettable original characters that have cemented themselves in the minds of readers the world over. And it’s all thanks to Way’s story and Gabriel Ba’s dynamic art within the panels.
The Umbrella Academy received praise from many in the comics industry, including Grant Morrison, author of Arkham Asylum and other popular works. The series has been so successful that it’s become a full-fledged Netflix series, which premiered on February 15 and received critical acclaim.
Here, we will delve deeply into the comic origins of this series. Though this article will mostly focus on the comics, the story for the Netflix series remains very similar to the books, with Way himself serving as one of the executive producers and recording a few cover songs for the soundtrack. Indeed, everyone involved with the series has gone to great lengths to make sure it matches the bonkers originality and the emotion of the comics.
The Umbrella Academy takes place in a universe very different from our own, one in which Kennedy was never assassinated (at first, anyway—it’s complicated). A wealthy researcher/space alien named Sir. Reginald Hargreeves (The Monocle) has made great strides technologically, including the televator and the levitator. He was also responsible for the cerebral advancement of the chimpanzee, which eventually puts them on the same level as human beings (in the show, the only chimp featured prominently is Pogo, the Academy’s charming butler).
One day, for seemingly no reason at all, 43 women showing no prior signs of pregnancy all gave birth at the same time to children with extraordinary powers. Most of these children died, but 7 were adopted by Hargreeves and trained to be a family of superheroes called The Umbrella Academy. These seven children grow apart from one another as they age, eventually only seeing each other “at weddings and funerals”. One dies, one gets lost traveling through time, and one ends up with the body of a gorilla. After their father dies mysteriously, they band together once again to to stop a new threat to the world – the Apocalypse. This threat turns out to be Number Seven, their presumably “normal” sister with no powers.
In subsequent comic story lines, the team battles time traveling assassins, involve themselves in the deaths of world leaders, and fight villains both new and old to their history. There have been two completed graphic novels for the series, each one containing six issues. The first collected edition is called Apocalypse Suite, and the second is called Dallas. The issues releasing monthly since October 2018 will eventually form a collected edition for graphic novel #3, Hotel Oblivion.
The drama within the family of superheroes is one of the saga’s most endearing features. Through it all, their attitudes and emotions cause them to commit to one another and then separate again multiple times throughout the series.
Number One – Space Boy
Space Boy, AKA Luther Hargreeves, is the leader of the Academy. His main strengths were always physical prowess, intelligence, and determination, qualities which he used to become the world’s first child astronaut.
Unfortunately, his body was severely damaged during a catastrophic mission to Mars. Hargreeves performed surgery, attaching Luther’s head to the body of a Martian Ape. This is changed somewhat in the web series, with Hargreeves injecting a dying Space Boy with a serum that changes his body into that of an ape. His size is also scaled down tremendously from the comic version, more in line with Gerard Way’s earliest drawings of the character. Luther’s backstory is one filled with tragedy and resentment, as are the backstories for most of the other characters.
Space Boy is very much in love with another Academy member, The Rumor. In Dallas, he is shown having fantasies in which she is his wife and the mother of his children. Unfortunately, he believes that this can only happen in his mind. After all, he’s a gorilla with the head of a human, and it makes him even more dedicated to his missions than he was before the accident—with a normal life seeming impossible, he can only focus on his work. The Rumor seems to return Space Boy’s affection at some points, but it’s as complicated for her as it is for him.
In the Netflix series, he is portrayed by Tom Hopper.
Number Two – The Kraken
Diego Hargreeves, like others in his group, has impressive physical skills. He uses them to continually perfect his favorite form of combat—knife fights. He can hold his breath indefinitely, and his stealth and speed make him a good detective.
He is one of the more angry members of the Umbrella Academy, knowing that his “father”, The Monocle, never really loved any of them. Diego hates him (and the rest of the world) for this. He is in constant conflict with the rest of his team, especially Luther.
The comic version of Diego was once very close to his adoptive “sister”, Vanya, but their relationship is frayed due to her leaving the group and writing a tell-all book about their household. In the Netflix series, Diego’s most endearing relationship is with his mother, Grace – a robotic woman designed to love the team of heroes. They are all attached to her, but they still see her as something artificial, incapable of true feeling. Diego, on the other hand, loves her very much, and it makes things all the more tragic when his “mom” starts to break down like any other machine.
Though the Academy disbanded for a time, with some trying to live normal lives, The Kraken continued to fight crime by working with police and chasing down thugs. Rather than Inspector Lupo from the comics, the Netflix Kraken’s main police liaison is his former lover, Detective Eudora Patch.
In the books, Kraken is missing his right eye, but this is not the case David Castaneda’s Netflix portrayal of the character. With the show staying so close to the source material, this difference may be corrected in later seasons.
Number Three – The Rumor
Allison Hargreeves, AKA The Rumor, has a very unique ability—the power to make lies come true. All she has to do is say, “I heard a rumor that ___.” and her words will actually happen in real life. She is rarely shown using this power, as it may be the most complex ability of them all as far as repercussions go. Eventually, she loses the power at the end of the Apocalypse Suite story line before gaining it back for an unforgettable moment in Dallas.
The Rumor attempted to live a normal life by getting married and having a daughter, but a divorce curtailed her plans for happiness. The Netflix series expands upon this by having her use the power on her own daughter, which was ultimately the cause of her fractured parenthood.
She is played by Emmy Raver-Lampman in the Netflix series, with the major character difference being the fact that The Rumor is a celebrity actress. This makes a lot of sense, for she can literally speak any wish of hers into existence.
Number Four – The Seance
Klaus Hargreeves, a pale bomb of dark humor with a penchant for drugs, can speak to the dead. He can also possess people, speak through TV/radio signals, and levitate (but only when barefoot). He even used telekinesis at the end of Apocalypse Suite to stop a piece of the moon from severely damaging the Earth. The Seance in the comics is a very gloomy character, but actually much less tragic. He dresses in black and is always ready with a verbal quip.
For the Netflix series, his powers are diminished substantially, as he is constantly pumping his body with drugs in order to silence the voices from the Great Beyond. According to Hargreeves himself, he’s only just scratched the surface of his abilities, so maybe he’ll develop his telekinetic abilities in the show’s future.
The Netflix Klaus is also a lot more lighthearted than the original version, but his eagerness to party and just go nuts is obviously a mask for the deep pain he feels from within. His pain develops even further thanks to serving in the Vietnam War, two decades before he was even born (you’ll have to watch to find out – this franchise is so deliciously weird). He has been through quite a series of comical misadventures, but some of them could be considered spoilers. Suffice it to say, he’s met God, spent time in a comatose ward, and made fun of Space Boy’s weight.
The Netflix version of The Seance is portrayed by Robert Sheehan. As with the comics version, he has the words “hello” and “goodbye” tattooed on the palms of his hands.
The Boy has no name. He is perhaps the most cynical of the group, believing humanity to be doomed, yet still trying to save it.
Don’t let his innocent appearance fool you—he is actually an old, wise killer with the body of a child. He ran away from home and spent decades in a future in which the Earth was destroyed. He eventually discovered how to travel back in time to thwart the apocalypse, but he was intercepted and modified by an organization of time travelers called the Temps Aeternalis, who transformed him into the perfect killing machine.
Five’s backstory on Netflix is pretty close the source material, with the only real difference centering on the Temps organization. They are now called the Temps Commission, and instead of intercepting him while time traveling, they hire him while he is still wandering the remains of Earth in loneliness. Still, the show keeps the character remarkably true to the comics. It even features his wife, a department store mannequin named Delores that he spent years with while slowly going insane as the only person left on Earth.
The Netflix series Number Five is played by Aidan Gallagher, and he seems to be a bit older than the comic version.
Number Six – The Horror
Ben Hargreeves is dead before the series begins. His statue appears at the Umbrella Academy mansion, and he briefly appears in the short story But the Past Ain’t Through With You. Not much is known about him, other than the fact that he has tentacles (monsters from another dimension are under his skin) and that people blame Space Boy for his death.
On Netflix, however, he is given a lot more of a story, as his disembodied spirit is a constant companion to Klaus. He is played by Justin H. Min.
Number Seven – The White Violin
Vanya Hargreeves spent most of her life thinking she was normal. Of all the mutant children, she was the only one who never exhibited any powers. However, her adoptive father knew better, and he harnessed her anger and her deeply buried desire for destruction by belittling her at every turn. He also insisted that she play the violin…a skill that would later be inextricably linked to her hidden abilities.
She eventually left the Academy, envious of her “special” siblings, which she wrote about in her tell-all book Extra-Ordinary–My Life as Number Seven.
Vanya eventually became the most dangerous villain on the planet thanks to a cult of murderous musicians called the Orchestra Verdammten. By playing a few notes on her violin, she could destroy people, buildings, and even the world itself.
In the show, there isn’t a cult involved to transform her into a villain, but she still ends up discovering her true abilities. Also, she doesn’t really need her violin to inflict damage, as her ability simply involves converting the sounds around her into energy. Still, the musical instrument amplifies it considerably. The character is portrayed by Ellen Page.
The Netflix series also features several recurring characters from the comic books, including Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), two utterly merciless assassins from the Temps Commission in some seriously creepy animal masks. They are given a lot more character development, mainly being portrayed as working Joes in a job they no longer enjoy, rather than the mindless nihilists hopped up on cookies and guns they were in the comics.
In the show, Hazel is the one with a sweet tooth, and instead of Girl Scout cookies, he’s all about doughnuts. He even falls in love with the owner of Griddy’s Doughnut shop, a minor character from the comics called Agnes. This would be unheard of in the original books, but it actually makes sense in this crazy world where anything can happen, further proving that this wild franchise can get away with anything.
What do you think of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy? Who is your favorite member of the Hargreeves family? Let Your Geek Sideshow and tell us in the comments!