Last month, a new Netflix superhero series entitled The Umbrella Academy caught my attention. Originating from a comic book series bearing the same title, which I previously never heard of, this seemingly unique story follows a dysfunctional group of disbanded superheroes. However, the death of their adoptive father, an eccentric billionaire named Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore: The Chronicles of Riddick, Thor), reunites this maladjusted family of gifted adoptees. What unravels is a whirlwind of clashing family drama, death, a talking chimpanzee voiced by Breaking Bad‘s Adam Godley, time travel and hidden secrets unveiled. Sounds captivating and original, doesn’t it? I thought so too … at first.
Parallel Origin Stories
Opening with 43 simultaneous, seemingly random, unconnected births around the world to women who previously showed no signs of pregnancy, The Umbrella Academy pilot sparked my creative intrigue. This introduction became a little more wild when Sir Reginald Hargreeves purchases seven of the mysteriously born infants. Raising these children in his mansion, Hargreeves trains them to discover and use the unique power each was given at birth.
Minus the part about purchasing infants, any fan of Marvel Comics Universe can see a strong influence here. I mean, come on. Naturally gifted superheroes who live in a mansion where they train for combat under the guidance of a wealthy superior? This just screams Professor Xavior and the X-men. All that’s missing are the spandex costums. However, flashbacks in The Umbrella Academy that depict a time before the group was disbanded show that these superpowered kids were not without uniforms. With the exception of their boarding school-esque clothes, their simple masks bear a close resemblance to The Incredibles. See for yourself in the photo comparison below!
When the former heroes reunite for the first time in years to spread their adoptive father’s ashes, their time travelling adoptive sibling, Number Five (Aidan Gallagher), appears with a mission. Missing since they were all children, Number Five still answers to the numbers each child was granted in place of actual names. It was after his disappearance that each kid was given a name. Also, due to complicated quantum mechanics and time travel mumbo jumbo that is merely glossed over, Number Five is a much older adult who takes on the physical appearance of the kid he was just before getting lost in time tavel. As if things can’t get more bizarre, he has just one goal in mind: to save the world from an unknown catastrophic event that is set to happen in a few days.
The plotline grips your attention and unravels with mystery. That said, I could not help but think of the quote “save the cheerleader, save the world.” If this sounds familiar, you likely remember it from the hit television series Heroes, which first premiered in 2006. I admit that a plotline of preventing the end of the world is nothing new and Heroes was far from the first to tackle such subject material. It was a very successful show about people discovering powers they were born with and a collaborative effort to prevent a deadly future. Its parallels to The Umbrella Academy are obvious.
With so much creative entertainment being released over centuries and the fact that we take in so much now-a-days, works of complete originality are becoming more and more rare. One could argue that, whether it be intentinonal or not, everything is influenced by something else. Though The Umbrella Academy does have some small authentic originality in the details, the show feels a bit like a mashup of several superhero shows and themes, while masquerading as something unique.
This led me to one question: who came up with the comic books on which the show is based? A quick Google search revealed that The Umbrella Academy was created by none other than Gerard Way, the frontman for the pop band My Chemical Romance. Personally, I found this to be fitting – though I did enjoy this series far more than any My Chemical Romance song.
Still Under One Umbrella
The Umbrella Academy may not be the most original piece of entertainment. I would argue that it is far from it. But it is a fun, one time viewing experience. And with several things left unexplained, it is clear that the creators expect to make a second season. While no official statement has yet been made to green light a followup season, it is likely that it will happen since the series has seen moderate success. Even with my critical analysis, the series has appealed enough to my inner geek for me to give a second season a fair shot.