The following contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy Season 1 on Netflix and The Umbrella Academy comic series.
The Umbrella Academy was always going to lose some stuff in translation from comic book to Netflix’s servers. Luther’s giant blue Martian gorilla body probably wasn’t going to make it. But one thing that seemed for sure is the villain or villains of the piece would remain the same.
That ultimately wasn’t the case as The Umbrella Academy did some re-imaginings and some moving around of the comic’s villains to better suit the TV show’s needs. In the process, one villain remained almost exactly the same, one villain changed completely, and two other villains were bumped up from their scheduled appearance in what would have been The Umbrella Academy Season 2.
So here is a breakdown of The Umbrella Academy‘s villains and how both the show and comic depict them.
We are first introduced to Leonard in the show’s first episode. He comes to receive a violin lesson from Vanya and it’s immediately clear that he will be a significant character, as evidenced by the fact that he’s played by one of Netflix’s favorite supporting actors: John Magaro (Orange is the New Black).
It quickly becomes apparent that not only is Leonard a significant character…he’s a bad guy. Leonard is actually an alias assumed by Harold Jenkins. As a child, Harold Jenkins lived a miserable, ordinary life with only an abusive father to raise him. Harold retreated inward and became obsessed with the exploits of the super-kid crime-fighting team The Umbrella Academy. And why wouldn’t he? Not only are they super cool as real life superheroes but also they share a birthday: October 1, 1989. Of course, the circumstances of the Umbrella kids’ births were supernatural, while Harold’s was not.
Harold eventually killed his father and went to prison. When he was released, he decided to continue his obsession with The Umbrella Academy by using the dead Reginald Hargreeves’ notes to unlock Vanya’s full powerful potential. He embeds himself in her life as a friend and slowly makes her realize that maybe she’s special after all.
In the show, Harold Jenkins is a very human character. It’s his human qualities that drive him to villainy – his pain, obsessions, vanity, and jealousy. He’s not entirely unlike Syndrome from The Incredibles.
Harold’s counterpart in the comic books is quite the opposite. The villain who motivates Vanya to fully embrace her potential in the comic series is simply called “The Conductor.” He’s a very creepy, barely human-appearing creature who leads an orchestra called The Orchestra Verdammten. The Orchestra Verdammnten is made up of some of the city’s finest killers and musicians. Their purpose is singular: to destroy the world…for funsies (destroying the world for funsies is a bit of a theme in The Umbrella Academy as you’ll come to find out).
They initially recruit Vanya in the comic’s first issue but she is unmoved by their request. Later, after Vanya’s family mistreats her further, she returns to the Orchestra and consents to undergoing a procedure that will unlock her pull potential. When she emerges, she is…The White Violin.
The White Violin
Vanya Hargreeves a.k.a. The White Violin is the most closely adapted “villain” from the books. We say “villain” because while destroying the world is a very villainous thing to do, Vanya is really more of a hurt child, lashing out. Vanya’s emotional journey in the show ties closely into her emotional joruney in the comics.
It’s the alienation that she feels from her family that drives her to fully embrace her powers. The source and nature of those powers are kind of unclear but it would seem that she’s capable of channeling great energy and destruction through the sound waves generated from her violin. In both the comic and the show she adorns herself in white, albeit in slightly different ways.
Also her first act as the newly empowered supervillain is to destroy the person who helped her reach supervillain status. Harold Jenkins very much goes the way of The Conductor.
“That felt like, ‘Yeah man, I’m gonna go for a ride, and I think I’m gonna tap into my fuckin’ rage,'” Ellen Page told us. “I thought that was interesting to explore. I don’t think I’ve played a character that rageful since Hard Candy or something.”
In future issues of the comic, Vanya has yet to return to her life of villainy – in fact she’s struggling to return to her life at all. She maintains her terrifying White Violin-appearance but mostly remains in a hospital bed or a wheelchair, recovering from the gunshot wound she sustatined during the melee at the Icarus Theater.
Hazel and Cha-Cha
Hazel and Cha-Cha inject a great deal of life and color into The Umbrella Academy on Netflix. Not only do the time-traveling assassins occasionally wear brightly-colored cartoon helmets but they’re also played by the weirdly perfect acting duo of Cameron Britton (Mindhunter) and Mary J. Blige (um…Mary J. Blige).
On the show, Hazel and Cha-Cha have the same occupation that they do in the comics, but the way they go about it is quite different. For starters, the show is exploring the concept of time-traveling assassins being somewhat bored by their jobs. It’s kind of a fun commentary on TV’s arms race of weirdness. Hazel (Britton) seems to be done with this life of crime and just wants to settle down with diner waitress Agnes. But the organization that Hazel and Cha-Cha work for, the Temps Agency, won’t let it happen. Nor will their boss, known only as “The Handler” (Kate Walsh).
Hazel and Cha-Cha aren’t introduced in the comics until the series second volume, “Dallas.” The show bumped them up into the first season since it clearly wanted to play around with time, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well have some time assassins.
In the comics, Hazel and Cha-Cha would never get sick of their job. They are the most enthusiastic time-traveling assassins you’ll ever meet. They are addicted to two things and two things only: unspeakable violence and Girl Scout cookies.
Hazel and Cha-Cha can’t be reasoned with. They are creatures of pure id that never take off those colorful helmets.
The organization they work for has the same goal of the organization in the show. It’s called “Temps Aeternalis,” and it hires a variety of assassins (including Number Five) to carry out a series of targeted executions to make sure the time stream runs the way it’s supposed to. The majority of “Dallas” concerns the agency hiring Number Five to carry out their biggest assassination yet: John F. Kennedy.
One key difference between the two depictions of the Temps, however, is their leader. Netflix must have been pleased as punch when they got Kate Walsh to play the leader of a guild of time assassins. For one, Kate Walsh is a talented actress. But just as importantly, they also no longer had to figure out how to animate a fish named Carmichael in a robot body.
Ultimately Hazel and Cha-Cha do rebel from the Temps Aeternalis though it’s not because they’re sick of their job or one of them falls in love with a diner waitress. It’s because their bloodlust can no longer be satisfied by simple executions. They want to destroy the entirety of Earth using Reginald Hargreeves’ nukes.
Why? Because funsies that’s why.
Understanding The Umbrella Academy villains and the changes made to them for the show can help one better understand the relationship between the books and the show. The Umbrella Academy comics have a much bigger sense of anarchic fun and creative chaos. The show probably wisely understands that it needs to nail the emotional angles more to reward viewers’ 10-hour investment.
Both approaches work with the help of some carefully crafted villains. Now read more about what might be in store for the Umbrella kids and their antagonists in The Umbrella Academy Season 2.