NPT: The Umbrella Academy Comic vs. Justice League Film
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Hey nerds, have you listened to Episode 2 of Nerds Polish Turds? Were you as let down with Justice League (2017) as we were? Well, no worries. You can forget about that cinematic stinker until the Snyder Cut comes out on HBO Max. In the meantime, you should check out a little comic book series from Dark Horse that I like to call... The Umbrella Academy! Everyone else likes to call it that, too, because it's the title. Anyway, many of you might be familiar with the hit Netflix series of the same name. But did you know that it was a comic book first? Here's why I think you should read the first volume, Apocalypse Suite, instead of watching Justice League. And yes, I know there are tons of great Justice League comics. But I'm trying to be unexpected here, so relax.
So, what exactly is the story of The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite? Well, I'll let the writer for the trade collection's synopsis tell you in their own words: "In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-three extraordinary children were spontaneously born by women who'd previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, 'To save the world.'
"These seven children form the Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands. When Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again."
You might be thinking, "Sounds interesting. But what does this comic have to do with Justice League?" Well, let me put it in perspective. First thing's first: superheroes! Both Justice League and The Umbrella Academy are cast with very dysfunctional super-powered folks. Both stories see the heroes butting heads and throwing occasional punches just from being in the same room in typical superhero-team-up story fashion. Both have a disgruntled grandfather-type of the group trying (and failing) to gather the team to save the world. Both teams have the death of a former super-powered ally looming in their pasts. And both have talking apes! Not really, I was just making sure you're paying attention. But that's everything the film and comic have in common. So what gives the Dark Horse comic a leg up?
WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE
At one point in time, Justice League might have been a visual masterpiece. If nothing else, Zack Snyder has an eye for visual flare and making each shot feel like an epic comic book panel brought to life. But due to a sudden family tragedy and some rumored studio conspiracy, he left the film during reshoots and was replaced by Joss Whedon. Unfortunately, this resulted in a visual mess with unnatural lighting and rushed set and character redesigns. On the other hand, The Umbrella Academy is a macabre, quirky, and cartoony masterpiece. Gabriel Ba's line-work feels like a cartoon being animated before your eyes, implementing Gerard Way's edgy character designs to the fullest extent. The cherry on top are the colors by Dave Stewart that somehow balance bright pulpy tones with moody gray sceneries. And the letters by Nate Piekos seamlessly blend in with the rest of the art. The whole thing feels like the musical style of My Chemical Romance bringing awe to the eyes instead of the ears.
In terms of the characters, it cannot be denied that the Justice League is a cast of classics. There's a reason Batman, Wonder Woman, and the like are some of the most well-known superheroes. Yet, very little of what made these characters shine in other media translated to this film. We're given glimpses of who these characters are. But with a story primarily concerned with action and being crammed into a short timeframe, we aren't given the space to get to know these versions of the heroes or how they tick. There are occasional fun moments of banter and awkward interactions. But it's hardly enough to get invested. While The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite isn't really a long story, it still manages to make these characters have believable personality and relationships. Sure, we can easily see that with some flashbacks to their childhood superhero days. But those scenes aren't necessary to pick up on who these characters are to each other. Gerard did the work in fleshing out their histories so that every argument or allusion to the past is just enough to show how much is brewing below the surface with the Hargreeves family. And though they each go through their own personal and relationship changes, they aren't forced to suddenly become a functional unit like in the DC film.
Some day, there will be a better version of Justice League out there. But until then, you'd be better off using your time to delve into Gerard Way's comic book world. Sure, it's dark at times. But unbeknownst to Warner Bros. executives, you can have a fun and dark story. And that's exactly what The Umbrella Academy is. So what are you waiting for? Read it now!