21st Century Super Niche

Dave Callanan on July 08, 2008

The Amazon editors and writers you read on Omni every day aren't the only ones reading hungrily around here. Today one of our book buyers, Alex Carr, sits in to give us a rundown on the recently released comic, The Umbrella Academy:

There’s a Secret Invasion going on in the comics industry, but it has nothing to do with Skrulls or multiple Earths. The once-quiet (and continuity-heavy) superhero genre is now overrun by celebrities. Buffy creator Joss Whedon recently finished a twenty-four issue stint on Astonishing X-Men, The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy’s Alan Heinberg revamped Wonder Woman, and bestselling author Brad Meltzer recast The Justice League of America. With superhero film adaptations filling the seats at the superplex, comics aren’t quite as exclusive (or reclusive) anymore.

Gerard Way, the frontman for My Chemical Romance, is the latest entry in the name-in-lights trend of comic writers, as he’s recently published a six issue mini-series for Dark Horse Comics titled The Umbrella Academy.

(Cue massive eye rolling from comics fans)

However, celebrity be damned, Way does have some legit comic cred.

Comics guru and industry living legend Grant Morrison hailed The Umbrella Academy as “An ultraviolet psychedelic sherbet bomb of wit and ideas. The superheroes of the 21st century are here at last…” And then, of course, there are the covers by Eisner award-winning artist James Jean, whose work on Fables lends a monthly air of sophistication to comic racks. Not to mention that before My Chemical Romance, Way worked as an intern for DC Comics.

Way begins The Umbrella Academy by introducing us to a team of seven oddly super-powered children who battle against a berserk Eiffel Tower manned  by a zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. And it only gets weirder. Just as Way seems to carve a comfortable niche, the story jumps ahead 20 years, where the children—well, most of them—are now re-introduced as adults and have split apart.

As the narrative flashes between the adventures of the children and their reluctant world-saving adult counterparts, Way’s wit is matched by artwork from Gabriel Ba, whose artwork on the trippy spy thriller Casanova made him an easy choice for this series. Ba manages to make the unbelievable look unbelievably good: angry robots, psychotic orchestras, kid ninjas, chimpanzee butlers, etc. It has the potential for the bombastic, but the tight scripting and clean artwork (love those colors by Dave Stewart) allow for a few quiet beats as well, especially between team leader Spaceboy and The Rumor (who has possibly the coolest power yet: the power of suggestion).

By the collection’s end, Way has barely unraveled even a hint of the threads he has in place, but Dark Horse promises a second series will begin before the end of 2008. Here’s to hoping Gerard Way does quit his day job in favor of more issues for this dynamic new series.

--Alex Carr

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