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'THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY': A cultural mash-up

Netflix scores yet again. Looking for another sci-fi romp to binge? “The Umbrella Academy” is just the thing. It’s an odd story with odd characters and a soundtrack of pop music that spans decades. You may never listen to “I Think I’m Alone Now” quite the same again.

The series is yet another successful comic book adaptation, this time adapted by Steve Blackman for Netflix, from Dark Horse comics originally created by Gerald Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá. Released in 2007, the first six-issue limited series won the Eisner Award for Best Finite Series/Limited Series. After another two series and one still planned, Blackman has quality source material to pull from.

The Netflix series seems like an amalgam of different previous movies and series such as “A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “Mystery Men” and the BBC classic “Misfits.” It centers on the idea of babies around the world being born by immaculate conception and with extraordinary powers. A professor gathers as many as he can find, a total of seven, and creates the Umbrella Academy, naming each of them by number.

The professor, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (played by Colm Feore), is just a rich man with no powers but a lot of resources. His immediate companions are a robot named Grace, the “mother” of the gathered children and stuck in 1950s fashion, and a small elderly ape in a three-piece suit who is the butler/assistant.

Professor Hargreeves is a heartless man who treats the children like an experiment and shows no real love for them, going so far as to have each of them tattooed with an umbrella symbol on their wrists. He spends his time with his nose buried in books and journals and gives them no real attention.

As time goes on, the children become a bunch of highly dysfunctional adults and go their separate ways after a very public life as a young super hero group. The death of the professor brings them back together and a mystery begins: Searching for one of their siblings who disappeared years before.

The siblings struggle with the adults they’ve become and the consequences of their powers. Ellen is an outcast with no powers of her own. Luther is a strongman with an enormous torso and arms. Diego is a vigilante with unnatural knife-throwing skills. Allison has the ability to whisper “rumors” to manipulate others’ wills. Klaus is a psychic communicator with the dead who keeps them away with a haze of drugs. Ben is dead and only Klaus can see him. No. 5 (he never got a name) can make special jumps and travels through time.

Each episode explores the siblings’ past and slowly reveals their dysfunctions. Meanwhile, a mystery duo of assassins named Cha-Cha and Hazel (played by Mary J. Blige and Cameron Britton) are on the hunt for No. 5 while wearing cartoon masks and carrying heavy firearms.

There is much to like about “The Umbrella Academy,” with the constant subtle references to other movies. Even “No Country for Old Men” has a moment. The opening music took a bit of time to recognize as a solo violin version of “Phantom of the Opera.” It’s an amazing cultural mash-up that becomes a balancing act to pull from so much and still maintain a sense of originality.

To reach Brian Fitz-Gerald email him at bfitz-gerald@rosebudmedia.com.

The original six kids as the Umbrella Academy: Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Number Five and Ben. Photo courtesy of Netflix.
The Umbrella Academy