Written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Ba, The Umbrella Academy is another example of comic book turned TV show, following in the footsteps of similarly dark realism properties like the Marvel series quintet, DC’s Arrowverse, and Wynonna Earp. It’s an interesting road now oft traveled in the pursuit of more viewers; a path that borrows generously from other mediums as well as other generations.
This fanciful musing on what TUA weaves well into its own dynamic story is in no way a slight against it. I enjoyed the first season quite a lot and finished it fast. Tropes and throwbacks are categorized as such , and repeated like so, because, in a world full of individuals, occasionally strangely specific themes seem to grip our interest.
In this post, I wish to explore the familiar as an enticement to embrace the new. From the get go, the viewer is tossed headfirst into the world of super-powered children who are being trained to combat evil. They do so in an academy -which can bring to mind like minded schools from all forms of media from Hogwarts (books, movies) to The Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters (comics, tv, cartoon, movies) to Disney’s Sky High (TV movie). They’re all from different backgrounds – which is reminiscent of teams like The Power Rangers, in its gazillion iterations, to Captain Planet’s team of elementally indicated heroes.
One gratifying component of TUA is however its moving away from the formative years of learning for its main characters, away from the structures of childhood. Yes, sometimes it is fun to go along the educational journey of a growing superhuman, but it’s not always necessary. It’s nice to jump in with protagonists who have themselves at least as figured out as other average adults.
Delving back into that which is familiar despite this being its first introduction: Mom. In this age of Sophia being given citizenship in Saudi Arabia, artificial intelligence, and its precursors, are nearly ubiquitous in our consumed media. Science fiction’s advanced robotics is merely like Siri or Alexa leveled up. I shall list a few examples I’ve personally enjoyed, with the disclaimer that this is by no means comprehensive:
- Battlestar Galactica
- I, Robot
- Ex Machina
- The Avengers
- Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
- Blade Runner
- The Jetsons
- The Terminator series
- The Matrix
- Star Wars
* Bold indicates favoritism
This all brings up the rather simplistically phrased question of Why Artificial Intelligence Appeals to an Audience. Is it because robots are shiny and cool? Maybe. Is it because after Hawking’s and Musk’s warnings about the peril of AI Overlords, we are fascinated by that which scares us? Also maybe. No matter the individual motives, media is accepting this once ‘science fiction only’ character as more and more mainstream. I, for one, am HERE for it.
I am also here for Pogo. TALKING ANIMALS ARE ALWAYS AMAZING. Fight me. To be clear, there’s very little explanation regarding how exactly Pogo gained his sapience. Was he genetically modified? Human brain transplanted into a chimpanzee host? Magically goo-ed? Actually an alien species Papa Hargreeves brought with him Earthside??? The world may never know. Without really knowing Pogo’s origin, it is pretty easy to bring up lots of unrelated examples of perhaps similar situations, ranging from Scooby Doo himself to the sharks in Deep Blue Sea. Honestly, my favorite example of intelligent animals is actually Douglas Adams’ in his Hitchhiker’s Guide Series.
Nothing in The Umbrella Academy was startlingly new – nothing reinvented the wheel – but that doesn’t detract from its jagged Whodunnit-ry, top notch soundtrack, and aesthetic marvels. Science fiction and comic books are no longer the genre of the teeny tiny niche audience, and with interest in properties like this one, hopefully more and more of this stuff will get made. Which can only be a good thing for us long time fans of the weird and wondrous.
So Long and Thanks For All The Fish!
Author’s Note: This series brought up a bunch of “big” questions for me. Ones I may or may not dive deeper into, such as:
– The believable immorality of selling your surprise child to a super rich stranger AKA How likely is it that only 7 of 43 sudden mothers sold their child for moolah?
– Manifestations of child abuse: The Hargreeves kids are all mentally unstable and here’s how…
– Peculiar Priorities in an Alternative Present: Why there is time travel, but no cell phones
– The Commission reminds me of The Watcher’s Council/The Alliance/Rossum Corp/Wolfram and Hart/The Organization OR How I see Joss Whedon’s work in everything, everywhere OR This is totally why I’m a libertarian afraid of big government and bigger corporations controlling those big governments.