The nonstop barrage of comic-book-inspired entertainment has primarily been a one-sided event, with most big movies, live-action and animated shows and streams coming from the big two comic book publishers: Marvel and DC.
That’s why “The Umbrella Academy” feels like such an achievement.
Hollywood execs and streaming giants are still sifting their fingers through bagged and boarded comics looking for gold, but they’re finally taking chances on the really good stuff. Don’t get me wrong: “The Umbrella Academy” is a superpowered affair, with creepy domino masks, heroics and a superhero-adoring public.
But many comic book readers head over to a publisher like Dark Horse Comics because their tastes are asking for something different from the superhero norm. And that’s why you’ll probably enjoy this show.
“The Umbrella Academy” is a triumphant amalgam of two comic book miniseries: “The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite” and “The Umbrella Academy: Dallas.” Elements of both series intertwine, not beholden to chronological order of when the comics were published, but instead using major moments from each to serve this 10-episode first season.
A quick “Umbrella Academy” 101 course goes as follows: 43 children are spontaneously born to women who, moments before birth, showed no signs of pregnancy. Many of the children are abandoned, but seven were adopted by a wealthy mad scientist, Sir Reginald Hargreeves. He trains the children, all of whom have powers, to be a kid superhero team known as the Umbrella Academy.
The powerless seventh child, known as No. 7 — each Umbrella Academy member has a number, because Hargreeves apparently doesn’t have time for the emotional attachment of using real names — is deemed not as special as the others.
The kids are split up in adulthood at the beginning of the show but are reunited by Hargreeves’s death, a mystery that forces them to team up again against their wishes.
Once the band is back together, they’re a motley crew’s worst nightmare: a man stuck in a gorilla’s body who spent years on the moon (Tom Hopper); a vigilante obsessed with justice and knives (David Castañeda); a former star actress who can make people do whatever she wants by using her voice (Emmy Raver-Lampman); a drug addict who can talk to the dead (Robert Sheehan); a teleporting time traveler (Aidan Gallagher) — more on him in a second. And No. 7, who we would believe is the least important because she has no powers (Ellen Page).
Each has their own number and an ability to save the world — at least if Hargreeves’s teachings are to be believed. Saving the world is exactly what the team must do when No. 5 (the teleporting time traveler) arrives after having been missing for more than a decade. (A time-traveling accident left him stuck in the future for so long he aged into an old man.)
No. 5’s trip into the future leaves him stuck in the apocalypse. He spends another lifetime trying to figure out how to get to the present. He finally makes it back during Hargreeves’s funeral, but a miscalculation means his now senior-citizen mind gets trapped in his teenage body. This makes Gallagher’s kid performance as an old man, who is consistently grumpy and always needing coffee or booze, one of the show’s main delights. Equally enjoyable is Irish actor Sheehan’s performance as the always-high-on-something death conversationalist.
No. 5 comes back days before the world is set to end. The team must put aside their differences, vices and sibling rivalries to make sure world destruction doesn’t happen.
Oh, and Mary J. Blige stars as one half of a time-traveling hit man — a duo called Hazel and Cha-Cha, and now every time you hear the song “Family Affair,” you’ll envision Blige gripping heat. So, there’s that.
If “The Umbrella Academy” is the start of Netflix’s new comic book normal, this is a creepy good start.