‘The Umbrella Academy’: How the Ending Improves on Gerard Way’s Comic

     February 15, 2019

the-umbrella-academy-slice1Spoilers ahead for The Umbrella Academy, both Netflix series and comic book. 

The Umbrella Academy is one of the most batshit symphonies composed by Netflix in a long time, building insane movement by insane movement until it crescendos in its tenth episode, ultimately ending on a suspended note, a deliciously frustrating cliffhanger that leaves the entire Earth a fiery, scorched mess. Now that I’ve used literally every musical term in my vocabulary, let’s discuss that ending, and how it improves on the comic book source material by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá by turning the end of the world into a decidedly familial affair.

But first: Reginald Hargreeves was an alien the entire time?

Yes, the opening moments of the show’s season 1 finale reveal that Hargreeves—the tough-love billionaire patriarch of the Umbrella Academy played by Colm Feore—comes from another planet. And things don’t look great for Hargreeve’s homeworld; ships are taking off by the score, suggesting an escape from a planet headed the way of Krypton. Hargreeves leaves behind a dying wife—who gives him her violin, which he eventually gifts to Vanya (Ellen Page) in a moment more tender than he’ll ever admit out loud—and heads to Earth.


Image via Netflix

It’s just one of the story points showrunner Steve Blackman stayed faithful to in his adaptation, along with Allison’s (Emmy Raver-Lampman) vocal chord mishap, Vanya’s transformation into a super-powerful world-ender, and the murder of chimp-butler Pogo (#RIPPogo). But the one major change from comic to TV series is the apocalypse itself. In the book, the reunited Umbrella Academy successfully stops Vanya from performing her world-ending symphony—Number Five shoots her in the head, but she survives—while the Netflix series takes things up a notch just a bit by blowing up the moon, sending catastrophic meteorites crashing down to Earth. Number Five suggest a highly risky trip backward in time, and off the Umbrella Academy go, Vanya included.

Way and Bá’s comic is a wonderful trip in its own right, but it makes much more of a villain out of Vanya, dubbed The White Violin by an insane, megalomaniacal orchestra conductor. (There’s a lot going on in that comic. You should check it out.) Page’s Vanya is a more tragic figure, a person who finally discovered the extraordinary power she wanted all her life is enough to kill us all. When her adopted siblings go to that theater they’re aiming to save her as much as save the world. It’s a key point that speaks to what makes Netflix’s adaptation such a unique superhero series. There are gun fights and masked villains, and time travel fuckery but boiled down it’s a story about family. Each of these people have satisfying arcs that lead them to that finale showdown together not as superheroes but as siblings, and in their first test as a reunited front they…fail spectacularly.

That’s perfect, because the members of the Umbrella Academy are imperfect. But by the end of season 1, they’ve all grown. Instead of seeing failure and running away, separated, like they did as kids, they see the world end, lock hands, and decide to try again. Together.