It was inevitable that one day I would cross paths with Gerard Way. Whilst, on paper at least, we come from the same musical scene, albeit opposite ends of said scenes spectrum, until this moment, or more accurately three hours ago, I’d never read a single word that Way had written or heard any of My Chemical Romance’s, the band he sings for, music. It was no accident. By design I’d intentionally gone out of my way to ensure that I never encountered either, a ridiculous notion born from my slavish devotion to a Hardcore ethic and loyalty to a scene that mocks and derides any form of pop sensibility and loathes success in any, and all, forms. In hindsight, it’s even more ridiculous than it sounds, as I’d also convinced myself that the success of The Umbrella Academy was somehow linked to that of his band and had drawn a parallel between the two. Meaning that I assumed his comic work would be crafted from the same arsenal as his music. It was a supposition that I’ve since come to bitterly regret, and while I’ve yet to hear his music, I have, somewhat belatedly, become a fan of his four colour work.
I’m sure by now that most people are aware of the origin story of the seven members of The Umbrella Academy and those of their mentors, thanks to the Netflix series based on Apocalypse Suite, a commonality that, for the most part, book and the aforementioned series share. However, Way’s prose and his in depth knowledge of, and love of, the medium in which his creations have taken form is apparent with every line of dialogue, the depth of his plot and the interaction between the characters. Drawing inspiration from the pulp heroes of the thirties and the golden age of comics, Way’s tale of a group of disparate, dysfunctional heroes who are forced, following the death of their adoptive father, to save the world from one of their own is drenched in detail. His characterisation is sublime, all of his players are weighed down by emotional and personal baggage, have secrets that they can’t share because they’re scared that they’ll reveal their vulnerabilities and are coping with mundane, everyday problems and they feel all the more real because of that.
Coupled with the ethereal, slightly other worldly, gorgeous art of Gabriel Ba that draws from, and is inspired by, the worlds of Mike Mignola, Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy feels like it belongs, and should exist, in the same universe as Hellboy and the BPRD, which lends it an immediate familiarity. You feel like you know who these characters are, what they’re feeling and why and what motivates them and become instantly invested in everything, and all, that they are. While Apocalypse Suite has more in common with its Netflix cousin than it doesn’t, it beats it hands down in terms of storytelling and the sheer levels of imagination and creativity that imbue every sentence, panel and page. And it doesn’t hurt that this reissue of the first volume also contains a number of super-charged short stories and a whole host of other delights. Right now though, more than anything I wish that I hadn’t been a victim of my own musical prejudice and that I’d jumped aboard this wild ride a decade ago, but you know what they say, better late than never. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I suggest you do the same… Tim Cundle