[Comic Book Review] Dark Horse’s THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: “Apocalypse Suite” TPB

PopCultHQ received a review copy of The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite TPB from Dark Horse Comics. Available now, the trade paperback features writing from Gerard Way, and illustrations from Gabriel Bá, colors by Dave Stewart, and letters from Nate Piekos.

Here’s PopCultHQ’s Spoiler-Free Review of…

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite TPB

Writer: Gerard Way
Artist: Gabriel Bá
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Nate Piekos
Series Cover Artist: James Jean
Trade Cover Artist: Gabriel Bá

Publication Date: June 18, 2008
SRP: $17.99

In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-seven extraordinary children were spontaneously born by women who’d previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, “To save the world.”

These seven children form The Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.

* This volume collects the first six-issue series, as well as out-of-print short stories, and an expanded sketchbook section featuring work by Bá, Jean, and Way.


PopCultHQ’s Comic Book Review:
The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite TPB

An ominous worldwide event leads to Sir Reginald Hargreeves fostering, raising, and shaping seven exceptional children. Years later the children reconvene after their benefactors passing only to be faced with preventing the end of the universe.

Writing:

I’m man enough to admit when I’ve been wrong. When I’ve presented myself as a comic-snob or contrarian just for the sake of it. I was a big My Chemical Romance fan. Still am. I respect Gerard Way as a musician and as a creative person. I’m even envious of the relationship between he and Grant Morrison. I missed the boat with The Umbrella Academy when it first bobbed up in 2008. I let the fanfare and the praise pass me by and incorrectly dismissed it as hype for two areas of pop culture intersecting. Another vanity project from someone who was just visiting in comics.
I was wrong.

Gerard Way is a comic book fan and a writer who knows what he likes in comic book storytelling. A writer who knows how to pull from different tropes and traditions to craft it all into something with a certain uniqueness. He’s clearly (and by now this is common knowledge) a fan of Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol. This has similar flavours to the quirk and metatextual layering of that work. But it’s still presented in Way’s own fashion. Respect without ripping off.

There’s a familiar atmosphere of Alan Moore’s work on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen working quietly in the background too. Just a hint.

Whether it’s a branch of being derivative, or signs of further influence, there are echoes of John Arcudi’s work on The Mask and Major Bummer here as well. Those weird edges that straddle the line between mainstream and cult weirdness. There’s even notes of Mike Allred’s earliest Madman work here and there. But they’re notes. Tips of the hat.

While the concept of the team isn’t new, the characters are one out of the box. The combination of different personalities and power sets are inspired. The villains are bizarre and sublime and come across as something completely new. The dialogue and the world building, the backstory and exposition each character is allowed, are evidence that Gerard Way plied his ideas meticulously into the work.

The pacing is jilted in some places, but otherwise steady without being furious. Deliberate without rushing or losing the urgency at its crescendo.
Way’s subsequent work on DC’s Young Animal imprint would see him get a chance to run wilder with the Doom Patrol, but he saved the real heat for his own creation here.

I’m seriously sorry I missed this the first time around.

Art:

Before I get to Gabriel Bá’s art, I want to acknowledge the covers by James Jean. Synonymous for giving the covers of Fables, Jack of Fables, Fairest, and the rest of the ‘Fables-verse’ its look, James has replicated that role for The Umbrella Academy. His art is strikingly of a different cut to the interior, but works in conversation and not in opposition to the interiors. Crucial in giving the books a sense of eye-popping visual design, his covers are displayed unobstructed by lettering in full glory within the trade.

Gabriel Bá, if all he ever did was design the exquisite visual of The White Violin/Vanya Hargreeves, has earned my insatiable hunger to track down as much of his artwork (I NEED to read Casanova and Daytrippers now) as I can. But of course, his contribution to The Umbrella Academy doesn’t stop there.

Bá’s art is evocative of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy work, Kevin O’Neil’s League of Extraordinary Gentleman art, Love and Rockets Hernandez Brothers and even European animation, expressionism, and Antipodean art movements.
Yet it manages to remain simple while juggling complex story elements, as well as this eclectic group of influences.

The storytelling is minimalist, intelligent, and (much like the writing) different enough to its forerunners and contemporaries. It’s economical without sacrificing what makes it visually beautiful. Body language and facial expression are woven around Way’s script like a quirky, yet graceful ballet. It’s high art in the guise of superhero comics. Above all else, it’s distinctively cool.

Colors:

Dave Stewart is one of those colorists that publishers work with, seemingly exclusively, because their work is consistently outstanding. They just have the perfect skillset to embody the feel and synergize with the rest of the creative team.

Check out the visual identity Stewart’s colors gave to Conan while the character was part of Dark Horse’s stable. Or the thematic distinction apparent in his work for Marvel’s Ultimate line with stints on Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four. The emphasis on mood and atmospheric quality on various bat family titles and The Goon.

With Umbrella Academy, Stewart is once again instrumental in providing a visual identity through color work for the book. Using different palettes to great effect to emphasize action, somber moments, past trauma, utter destruction. Not only displaying a knack for diversity, but so seamlessly running and shifting through every scene and emotion.

Letters:

Another letterer who has done everything from X-books to Elfquest, Nate Piekos’ work shines for leaning right into the classic and traditional comic book sensibilities with his letters.

It’s as much in juxtaposition to the art and writing as James Jean’s covers are to Bá’s interior art, but it’s twice as effective. Keeping the through line that, at its heart, this is still the tale of superheros fighting bad guys.

The effects work for simple phone rings to ominous rumblings to almighty zaps are so well-handled and bring action and impact to each panel they feature in.

The placement, especially for a comic that’s heavy on monologue text boxes, assists in guiding the reader’s eye along with the action. Nothing is ever a distraction, everything only serves to embellish the good work of the art and writing teams.

PopCultHQ’s Overall Assessment:

The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite TPB is all the things you wish team books still did consistently. Great characters, intriguing mystery, huge action, weird stuff, an abundance of fun, quiet tragedy, this book plays with these elements so masterfully that you’d swear it was emanating from the White Violin herself.

If you’re like me and for one reason or another haven’t yet read this, I urge you to correct that transgression immediately. You’ll thank yourself.

PopCultHQ’s Rating:

4.5 out of 5 Stars

PopCultHQ Rating - 4.5 Stars
PopCultHQ Rating – 4.5 Stars

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite TPB
can be purchased now at your LCS and online retailers!

Print Edition Buy Now

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And check out Season One of
The Umbrella Academy, now on Netflix!

Starring Ellen Page, Robert Sheehan, Mary J. Blige, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, David Castañeda, Aidan Gallagher, and many others, The Umbrella Academy is produced by Universal Cable Productions (UCP) for Netflix, and premieres on February 15, 2019. Steve Blackman will serve as executive producer and showrunner, with Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg from Dark Horse Entertainment alongside Bluegrass Television serving as additional executive producers. Gerard Way will serve as co-executive producer.


Be sure to follow the creative team!

Writer – Gerard Way

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Artist – Gabriel Bá

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Colorist – Dave Stewart

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Letterer – Nate Piekos

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Publisher – Dark Horse Comics

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