UPDATE: Things were looking grim for the Umbrella Academy when this article was first released. It was unclear if the series would even get a highly anticipated Vol. 3. Gerard Way, the creative powerhouse behind Academy, was working on another series and seemed unsure that he would ever return for “Hotel Oblivion”. Since then, there have been some exciting new developments:
In late December, Way unveiled that a) he and Gabriel Ba would be working on not just Vol. 3, but also a Vol. 4 in 2014…— Gerard Way (@gerardway) December 21, 2013— Gerard Way (@gerardway) December 21, 2013— Gerard Way (@gerardway) December 21, 2013
and b) the series would be getting some new characters!
If St. Zero and Gas Panic aren’t the sexiest things you’ve seen in a while, I don’t know what to tell you.
No release dates for Vol. 3 and 4 have been set by Dark Horse, but we might see them on shelves later this year!
Stay tuned for more updates at Den of Geek!
ORIGINAL: The best thing about comics, for me, is how utterly ridiculous they can get. One of the things you learn in a creative writing workshop is that character actions must be believable within the confines of the world you’ve created in your stories. You can’t just go around breaking the rules of your fictional universe without facing the consequences: losing all your readers. The same is true of film and television.
But with comics, the amount of retconning and alternate universes involved makes every single argument invalid. If you sit down and really think about it, the comic book universe is the definition of chaos—an amalgamation of events that weighs about as much as a feather. Then, once in a while, the reality storm hits (DC calls it a “Crisis” while Marvel has civil wars) that puts everything in “order” again—for the time being. A hard reset.
At the start of Dark Horse’s The Umbrella Academy, the “crisis” has come and gone. In true Watchmen fashion, we are introduced to a team of heroes—seven siblings assisted by an alien named The Monocle (self-explanatory) and a talking-chimp version of Alfred Pennyworth named Pogo—that is past its heyday, whose flaws (and there are many) have finally caught up with them.
We meet seven broken heroes: Spaceboy, the de-facto leader of the Umbrella Academy, whose head has been transplanted onto the body of a Martian gorilla; The Kraken, a rebellious punk rocker who can hold his breath underwater forever and is deadly with knives; The Rumor, who can alter reality by lying; The Séance, who can levitate, use telekinesis, and talk to the dead, but only when his shoes are off; Number Five, or “The Boy,” who can effortlessly travel through time; The Horror, who has monsters from other dimensions under his skin, has died before the series begins; and the troubled White Violin, who could one day bring about the apocalypse just by playing her precious instrument…
If the character descriptions aren’t enough to make you WTF, then what about the fact that they were all immaculately conceived and born at the same moment in time in random places around the globe to women who showed no signs of pregnancy until the very moment of birth? Right away, you’re told that these children were put on this Earth to do something incredible…or destroy it…
So it makes perfect sense when The Monocle, their adoptive alien father, assembles the children and trains them to become the greatest team of superheroes the world has ever seen. At first, the team works very well as a peewee Justice League, fighting the likes of the Murder Magician, Dr. Terminal, and a zombie robot version of Gustave Eiffel (yes, you guessed it), which results in the Eiffel Tower launching off into space…Unfortunately for all involved, the kids become teenagers and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly, The Monocle has to deal with rebelliousness, teen angst, puberty, and just the all-around awkwardness that this period in a human’s life entails.
The Monocle, who was never that great of a father to begin with— he refused to let them call him “father,” and numbered the children 1 through 7 by “usefulness”— eventually passes away, leaving the teen Academy to figure things out on their own. It’s not like their mother, an animated mannequin torso, can do much to console them. Eventually, the team breaks up and we are left to piece together the remnants of their adventures. That’s where the series begins.
Gerard Way, the frontman of the recently-deceased My Chemical Romance, is no stranger to the absurd. The man who is in large-part responsible for the band’s ridiculous theatrical persona injects his style into the pages of The Umbrella Academy, accompanied by the beautiful art of Gabriel Ba, to create a true spiritual successor to series such as Doom Patrol and Watchmen that depicts misfits who can’t come to term with the abilities that make them more than human, that make them greater.
What was so great about those series and is great about The Umbrella Academy is that they dig deep into the alienation of the heroes as they begin to realize that they will never be able to live as normal humans. Made even more special due to the fact that their superpowers are nurtured from birth. Nothing has dug so deep into the mechanics of a superhero family since the golden age of the Fantastic Four. We have the sibling rivalries, sibling romances (WTF?), secrets, dysfunction, and animosity that often come with being part of a family.
The focus of their stories isn’t so much that they save the world, but that they work TOGETHER to save the world. And we have to keep sticking our hands deep into the muck to find what once made these heroes so great, united this family, and where the breaking point occurred. The mystery isn’t that, all of a sudden, a family that swore to never unite again is rushed right back into the thick of the violence by forces yet to be revealed. It’s the past. We want to know where things went wrong so that we can measure the Umbrella Academy’s true obstacle: becoming a family again.
The Umbrella Academy’s first two adventures, titled “The Apocalypse Suite” and “Dallas,” reveal some of the family’s dark secrets as they battle a White Violin who has turned to evil and deal with Number Five’s return from exile 50 years in the future. In two series, the family puts an end to an apocalyptic orchestra and finally answers the question: Who killed JFK?
Of course, that was five years ago. A series that had such a promising start and an established fanbase (in large part due to its creator’s celebrity status) remains discontinued.
Gerard Way is currently working on another series for Dark Horse Comics called The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, a comic book sequel to My Chemical Romance’s final album, Danger Days, and it looks very promising. Rumor has it that Way might be done with comics after Killjoys. But where does that leave series three of The Umbrella Academy, tentatively titled (5 years ago) “Hotel Oblivion?”
Originally, there were BIG plans for this series. Back in 2008, there were even talks of a film adaptation. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Way confirmed that he was in negotiations with Universal: “I’ve heard 2010 and 2011. I think 2010 is the big Marvel year, right? So maybe 2011. Not that this is going to be like those movies, really. I said going into the meetings that this film has to be really progressive. It can’t simply be the next opportunity for a video game. In the way that The Dark Knight made its own rules, it needs to have its own energy. One of the names I was really interested in as far as screenwriters was Diablo Cody. I think it’s an unexpected choice. Everything about this book has been making the less-obvious choices.”
Way really loved the work of Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) and Wes Anderson (Royal Tenenbaums) and mentioned both directors as people he would love to work with. Wes Anderson heavily influenced Way’s work on Umbrella Academy. The heart and soul of a family is embedded into each and every panel and that’s what Anderson does with his movies, which are all about family values. I think Wes Anderson’s Umbrella Academy would have been PERFECT. Quirky characters, ridiculous adventures, gifted children, and an eccentric billionaire alien patriarch who could only be played by Bill Murray made him the perfect candidate to direct this film.
Or if you wanted a darker version: Nicolas Winding Refn (my pick of late for EVERYTHING). Picture Spaceboy drinking away a bad case of depression in the red light district or Kraken and The White Violin punking it out back when the getting was still good. I can picture the gloomy atmosphere and the sparse dialogue that would really up the family’s mysterious past and bring about a grittier feel to the film.
But I dream…
The negotiations seemed to fall off (as they often due with highly-ambitious adaptations such as this one). Way was a lot less optimistic about the film in 2012 when he talked to Comics Alliance: “Every once in a while there’s a burst of movement and it’s kind of how I’ve noticed Hollywood works. There’s a burst of movement and then a burst of nothing. We actually recently got a script and it’s really great, so I think it’s just a matter of waiting for [Universal Studios] wanting to take the risk on it.”
It’s safe to say the film is in development hell.
If anything has been proven in the past few years, it’s that superhero team movies can work. Watchmen, which might be the most ambitious superhero film of all-time, worked on the big screen (with some cuts to the plot, of course). Not to mention that The Avengers is the third highest-grossing film in history…
Even if there’s no movie, where the hell is “Hotel Oblivion?” That’s the kicker. I could live without the film (it’s likely that someone would find a way to ruin it anyway), but what about that cliffhanger? “Dallas”leaves us with more questions than answers: where the hell is Spaceboy at the end of the story? Will the White Violin ever snap out of her coma? Will Kraken ever stop being such a tortured soul? What’s next for The Boy, who has returned to the “present,” and is enjoying an ice cream cone on a sidewalk in the last pages of the comic? That’s a Cliffhanger if I ever done seen one!
When Way first created the series, he planned to write multiple miniseries that would tell the complete story of the Academy: their childhoods, their dark present, and their even more fucked up future. After the success of the first two miniseries, things were looking bright for a third. Dark Horse planned to release “Hotel Oblivion” sometime in 2010.
How would “Hotel Oblivion” have continued this story? According to an interview he did with Comics Alliance last December, Way planned to take us to another dimension: “I think that right away I pretty much knew what I wanted series three to be about, and I knew it was going to be about this hotel that [Sir Reginald] Hargreeves had built to keep everybody that [The Umbrella Academy] encountered who were extremely dangerous – he built this hotel to keep them in this kind of pocket dimension.”
What’s more, Way promised a couple of changes to the series: a brand-new character (could we finally meet The Horror??) as well as a large focus on the baddies from the Academy’s past. Up to this point, we’ve only seen glimpses of past villains, such as the Murder Magician, who really delivers on his name. It would be great to dig deep into this hotel and find the root of the darkness within the adult Academy (my guess is that most of these bad guys are from the Academy’s peewee crimefighting days).
Way’s life has changed quite a bit since the release of “Dallas.” He got married, had a kid, his band broke up, and he started another comic book series. It’s safe to say he has a lot on his plate. Figuring out his next steps is so much a part of a writer’s output as the work itself. It might be a few years yet before we get the next chapter in The Umbrella Academy, but it’s well-worth the wait. We will sit in Spaceboy’s solitude, in the White Violin’s silence, in the Boy’s wisdom until we get the answers we deserve.