The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite

~written by Gerard Way
~art by Gabriel Bá
~colors by Dave Stewart
2008 Eisner Award Winner
2008 Harvey Award Winner
2009 ALA Great Graphic Novels for Teens

When Gerard Way's The Umbrella Academy comic series first came out, I had very little interest in it, despite the amount of excitement at my favorite comic shop. Superheroes have never really been my "thing," although I usually still enjoy the sub-genre. But, when the trade paperback of the original story arc came out, the cover caught my eye and I decided to give it a try (I couldn't resist the musically themed villain and title). Apocalypse Suite, in addition to collecting the first six issues of the comic, includes the 2007 Free Comic Book Day issue and a two page "short story" preview from Dark Horse's website (both with notes by the artist, Gabriel Bá), as well as an introduction by Grant Morrison, an afterword by the series' editor, Scott Allie, extra artwork, covers, and preliminary sketches and character design.

Apocalypse Suite starts at the very beginnings of the Umbrella Academy, when forty-seven children were spontaneously born all over the world by women who previously had shown no signs of pregnancy. Seven of these children were found and adopted by millionaire inventor and space alien Sir Reginald Hargreeves to be raised and trained to save the world (though from what, nobody is entirely sure). Forming a rather dysfunctional superhero team (not to mention family), they eventually disband. Years later, the siblings reunite when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, just in time to prevent one of their own from destroying the planet.

The whole book is very intense and a bit of a mind-trip. It takes a couple of issues to really get going, but once it does the pacing and insanity falls into place quite nicely. One of the best (and shortest) descriptions of the story I've come across is from the American Library Association's 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens: "When you come from a family of superheroes, don't piss off your sister." The relationships and family dynamics are incredible even if a bit bizarre at times. I adore the characters--The Kraken is probably my favorite, followed closely by The White Violin (accompanied by an orchestra of supervillians, of course). But really, I like the whole group of them. The storytelling isn't entirely linear and often feels rather cryptic, especially towards the beginning; quite a bit is left unsaid and many of the details must be inferred. Granted, the speculation required can be great fun.

The artwork is stunning--the book is simply gorgeous to look at. I love the style created by Gabriel Bá's art and Dave Stewart's coloring in Apocalypse Suite--although using a wide palate of colors (including very bright ones), it still conveys a dark, almost gothic, atmosphere. Figures and shapes tend to be more angular than realistic and slightly out of proportion, but the illustrations are very effective. A couple of panels were probably overly graphic, even in comparison to the rest of the illustrations. The artists don't hold back, and the execution is brilliant even when it is disturbing. Emotionally packed, it easily goes from gut-wrenching to amusing and back again. There are some minor consistency and continuity problems, but overall the art is fantastic.

I am very conflicted when it comes to Apocalypse Suite. I didn't really like it at first, but by the end I was invested; after finishing the book, I couldn't stop thinking about the blasted thing. So, I picked it up and read it again and the same thing happened. At first, I was unsure, but by the end I think I was almost in love. While on the surface it appears to be rather outrageous and even absurd, the book contains a surprising amount of depth and carries quite an impact. Despite any misgivings I still have about Apocalypse Suite, I am now thoroughly addicted to The Umbrella Academy. Hopefully, I won't have to wait too long for the second trade collection, Dallas, to be published. Although, I suppose I could always break down and buy the comics individually.

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