The Umbrella Academy: Celebrating The Unconventional Family
The comic book series, The Umbrella Academy, is the brainchild of writer Gerard Way (also the lead singer of My Chemical Romance) and artist Gabriel Ba. The tv series, now shooting its second season, took the comic and expanded the story with Steve Blackman (Fargo, Altered Carbon) as the showrunner.
This unconventional family is a collection of sorts. Chosen from thousands of children born on the same day, their father ‘adopted’ seven of them from around the world, discovered they each had special talents, and called them the Umbrella Academy.
In both the series and comic, we meet the siblings when they reunite after years of being apart following the death of their father. This reluctant group of super heroes spend more time dealing with their own family dysfunction than using their talents to make the world a better place.
One of the siblings Number 5 (The Boy) can travel through time and comes back with dire news: The world will come to an end in seven days. He sees something in the future that tears his heart out. He is determined to stop it from happening and needs his siblings help. Number 5 wants to save the world. He wants to save his family.
Number 5’s altruistic request that his family help him save the world, puts them into conflict with who they are as a family, and who they are as individuals. They struggle with their “specialness” - their father having never taught them how to reign in their powers - and are more neurotic than ‘woke’. Their reunion is uncomfortable and fraught with sibling rivalry. Some may argue that they are not worthy of super hero status (they would agree!), and it is a very Eastern spiritual traditional concept that you clean your own house before you make any attempts to tackle the world’s problems.
Each sibling laments their “ability - all except one. Vanya (The White Violin, Number 7) feels like a misfit among misfits. She wishes to be like her siblings. She is a quiet, unassuming classical violinist who balks at the idea of being first chair because she has been told all her life that she is not special.
We all can relate to that and what happens to her - what we all want personally – the opportunity to prove that we are special, that we have something to offer the world. And that someone in a position of power will help showcase this innate talent. For Vanya, it is a double-edged sword. She is discovered to be the most special of all, but the one person who recognizes it also wants to use her talents for evil.
Klaus (The Séance, Number 4), a tormented soul, he is able to see dead people and is frequently visited upon by their deceased brother, Ben (The Horror, Number 6). By virtue of their relationship, we get a deeper understanding of the family dynamic. Ben offers Klaus insight into the world around him that Klaus is oblivious to in his constant inebriated state – and it is this relationship that shakes Klaus out of his stupor and … uses his talents for good not for evil.
Diego (The Kraken, Number 2), the brother who is a master at throwing knives and manipulating objects hurtling through space, seems to be always losing someone. This creates tension in his character. It occurs to me that his super power is not his knife throwing skills but his heart, and is the reason he decides to help Number 5.
The big sister, Allison (The Rumor, Number 3), in the graphic novel alters reality with the truth which is a hope that those of us who think we are “woke” have, that we will always rise to the occasion. The significance of this unusual super power is not lost on me in these times, and the fact that a woman was endowed with this kind of power is reflective of what we hope we would do – cut through the crap of life and tell the truth.
That’s why in the tv series, it is not far-fetched that she has an over stimulated sixth sense. She worries and frets about the siblings – but Vanya most of all. This character epitomizes the “real” mother the group never had. Big sisters always take this role – sometimes to their detriment. And Allison is no exception. Her “meddling” as Vanya identifies it, kept them separate throughout the years.
The big brother, Luther (Spaceboy, Number 1), is the most forgiving and therefore naïve of them all, making excuses for their father as to why he performed an experimental surgery that turned him into a “freak” with super-strength.
Luther becomes the “ideal” father figure, protective, strong, stubborn. His and Allison’s “unconsummated love relationship” echoes loudly the lack of familial stability this unusual family never had with their adult parents. We all want to think our parents have only our best interests at heart, but the UA puts “father” into the villain seat. And the struggle of the siblings to come to terms with their childhood and all it entailed serves as the drama of the graphic novel and series.
The sweetness and quirkiness of the story comes from the fact that each of them, as they move in the world as victims of villains, have their own personal reasons for doing what they do. And more than anything else, because they feel outside of everything, because they were separated and segregated by their father from the rest of humanity, they have a keen sense of loyalty. The thrust of their action is always: