Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Under my umbrella

I don't get to read that many graphic novels for two reasons. First, they're way too expensive for my taste. A compilation can cost up to 2,000 pesos (around $30); "cheaper" ones are still costly at 500 to 800 pesos (around $10 to $15). Second, I find it difficult to focus on the artworks. The speed reader in me lets me finish reading all the text and dialogue quickly, but I end up rereading these graphic novels only to look at the artworks longer.

I've been looking for The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite (Vol. 1) for the longest time that when I finally found it last Saturday, I just had to get it. It's the first graphic novel written by Gerard Way of the band My Chemical Romance, and illustrated by Gabriel Ba. Unlike other graphic novels I've read such as Watchmen, The Sandman series, and V for Vendetta, The Umbrella Academy doesn't take itself too seriously. Reading it is effortless, and you just end up having a jolly good time with the characters Way has conjured.

The graphic novel starts out weirdly enough. One ordinary day, 47 women who show no signs of pregnancy began to give birth to "special" babies. Because these babies were simply abandoned, only 7 of them were left alive. These babies were then adopted a rich but eccentric scientist/businessman named Reginald Hargreeves. When asked by people why, he simply stated "To save the world of course." Cut to several years later to a time when Paris is being attacked by an evil zombie-robot named Gustave Eiffel, who pilots a death ray-shooting Eiffel Tower. Enter 6 of the 7 children who manage to kill Eiffel with their special powers. (The 7th child, a girl named Vanya, appears not to have any special powers. So she's left at the Halgreeves estate, watching all the action from a screen.)

Twenty years later, Halgreeves dies and the team of the Umbrella Academy reunite to pay their respects. But this time, we only get to see five of them. One of the original team of 6 has died, although the reason for his death isn't disclosed. The 7th girl, the prodigal Vanya, has cut her ties from the family. Little does she know that she'll be the instrument to usher in the apocalypse, which would see the team of the Umbrella Academy working together to save the world once again.

After reading The Umbrella Academy, you can't help but think that the first volume feels oddly derivative. There are elements that would remind you of the impending end-of-the-world scenario of Watchmen, the superpowered misfits of the X-Men, and, of course, the campy action scenes featured in Justice League of America. But Way weaves his narrative in a tight and suspenseful manner that you can't help it but just read along. The result is one all-out, funny, whimsical, and quirky story, which features the latest lovable characters in graphic fiction.

The Umbrella Academy team members are not full of themselves. They may be angtsy and full of repressed feelings, but they're very likable and are original. Way doesn't waste precious pages dwelling on his characters' personalities. It's as if he's reserving these narratives in future issues. I particularly like the characters of Rumor and Seance. Rumor has the ability to make people believe that lies are real by saying "I heard a rumor that..." or "I heard that..." Seance, on the other hand, can communicate with the dead and levitate. And apparently, at the end of the first volume, we discover that he has telekinesis as well.

If you're familiar with the music of My Chemical Romance, you may observe Way's touch in each and every page of this graphic novel. The terse dialogue and the intermittent action scenes bring to mind the syncopated rhythm and jarring cadence of rock music. And the villain hopes to usher in the apocalypse through, ehem, music, and classical music at that. Ba's illustrations are beautifully rendered in each panel. These illustrations are already worth the price of the graphic novel. The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite is just brimming with possibilities. It raises so many questions that I hope will be answered in the next installment.

Read this book if:
  1. You think you're the family's black sheep.
  2. You like your superheroes funny.
  3. You love music and books.


Vivienne said...

I don't think I am the black sheep but I know I would seriously enjoy this one. Great review. Love the last picture.

Peter S. said...

Hi Viviene! Thanks! The artwork in The Umbrella Academy is indeed fascinating.

Portobello's coffee said...

just got myself a copy! yay!

Peter S. said...

Ay, you'll enjoy it, Portobello's coffee!

Andrew said...

Good review, thanks. If you want graphic novels for less than $10 try www.campfire.co.in. They are $6.95 including delivery.

Peter S. said...

Hi Andrew. Thanks for the tip.