My Chemical Romance’s 2004 breakthrough record, Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, was a collection of eleven slices of spiky yet anthemic post-hardcore with a very, very loose narrative thread running throughout – something about “the bodies of a thousand evil men” and vengeance wreaked on behalf of a dead lover. Last year, the band released The Black Parade, a Queen-inspired concept record about one man, The Patient, and his journey through life and, ultimately, death. Frontman Gerard Way (you may heave heard of him – if you’ve picked up Kerrang! in the past two years, you most certainly have) has always been the man behind these odd stories, his ideas teasing at the potential of being something more, multi-platinum rock band or not. Hence The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse), a collaboration with Brazilian artist Gabrial Bá that unveiled its first issue this month. And like the aforementioned stories, the comic book is proof of a wild imagination at work, with every page haunted by the spectre of death – it is, however, a lot easier to follow without the music to listen to.
From the first page, we are taken away to an unfamiliar version of Earth, an Earth where men can wrestle giant space squid (and win!) and where a number of women simultaneously give birth to mysterious children that look like “Ingmar Bergman extras”. Enter Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a famous scientist and entrepreneur who is also, lo and behold, an alien. He adopts seven of the super-powered children and promptly disappears until, one day, the Eiffel Tower goes insane and aforementioned children – now The Umbrella Academy – have to stop it. It’s a very odd ride, and without wanting to give too much away, the story takes a peculiar-yet-poignant turn, suddenly fast forwarding a good twenty years on into space.
Way’s comic is thankfully no vanity project – he hasn’t been whoring the title about at MCR gigs, deciding to let the comic simply speak for itself. And Umbrella Academy’s maiden issue offers promise, with a (surprisingly) clipped and British sense of humour that meshes well with Bá’s funky, Saul Bass-inspired style. At points, the exposition can be exhausting and the characterisation is, quite frankly, rushed over for much of the twenty-two pages, but that’s purely down to the ambition of this comic-book virgin. The next issue continues the current arc (entitled Apocalypse Suite), and… well, I guess we can only see what happens next. I have faith though – Way reassuringly makes as odd a comic book writer as he makes a rock star.