These dysfunctional heroes are making the jump to the small screen.
There’s certainly no shortage of new TV shows based on comic books in 2019. But there’s one series that seems to be on everyone’s radar this year – Umbrella Academy. Based on the comic books from Gerard Way and artist Gabriel Bá, this new Netflix series puts a darker, quirkier spin on the X-Men formula.
If you’re not sure why everyone is looking forward to the show’s debut, it’s time to brush up on all things Umbrella Academy. Here’s everything you need to know about the premise, characters, and setting of this oddball superhero saga.
Umbrella Academy Explained: The Basics
The Umbrella Academy begins when 43 superhuman infants are suddenly born to mothers who had shown no signs of pregnancy beforehand. A wealthy inventor and philanthropist named Sir Reginald Hargreeves adopts seven of these children and raises them to be superheroes at the titular Umbrella Academy. Unfortunately, with Hargreeves being a ruthless taskmaster who cares only about results, these seven children grow up to be dysfunctional, psychologically damaged heroes.
Much of the three Umbrella Academy stories published to date take place in 1977, with the adult Hargreeves children trying to reconnect and work together as a functional team. It’s not easy putting the past behind them, but these heroes are the first and only line of defense in a world even stranger than our own.
Umbrella Academy Characters
The Umbrella Academy consists of seven members, each one of them adopted as an infant by Hargreeves and groomed to become superheroes. Each of the seven children were given a number by their father, ranking them in order of their abilities and usefulness.
Number One (Spaceboy) – Luther Hargreeves is the leader of the team and the one most eager to please his father. His innate super-strength was further enhanced after his head was grafted onto the body of a genetically engineered Martian ape. He spends most of his time off-planet and has a hidden crush on his adoptive sister, Number Three.
Number Two (The Kraken) – While Diego Hargreeves doesn’t have much in the way of power (beyond the ability to hold his breath indefinitely), his combat skills and ruthless personality make him the most skilled fighter of the group. Basically, if Spaceboy is the Umbrella Academy’s Superman, Kraken is its Batman.
Number Three (The Rumor) – Allison Hargreeves may well be the most powerful member of the team. She can rewrite reality simply by speaking the phrase, “I heard a rumor…” She’s also perhaps the most psychologically damaged Hargreeves sibling, plagued by guilt over the fact that her ex-husband has full custody of their daughter, Claire.
Number Four (The Seánce) – Klaus Hargreeves has the ability to levitate and commune with the dead, but only when he isn’t wearing shoes. Klaus is by far the most morbid and nihilistic member of the Hargreeves family, a fact that definitely wasn’t helped by briefly dying and being rejected by both Heaven and Hell.
Number Five – The only member of the family not to have a normal name, Number Five is a time traveler trapped in the body of his ten-year-old self. His original disappearance caused the Umbrella Academy to break up, and since returning from a hellish future, he’s been instrumental in keeping the old gang together.
Number Six (The Horror) – Little is known about Ben Hargreeves apart from his ability to unleash monsters living underneath his skin. Ben died during an early Umbrella Academy mission, with only a memorial statue left to keep his memory alive.
Number Seven (The White Violin) – As the only member of the family with no superhuman powers as a child, Vanya Hargreeves was often ignored or insulted by her father. As an adult, her years of violin practice pay off when Vanya is recruited into the Orchestra Verdammten and transformed into the supervillain known as The White Violin.
Umbrella Academy: Origin and Background
The Umbrella Academy series was created by Gerard Way (best known as the lead singer of My Chemical Romance) and Gabriel Bá (artist and co-creator of the Image Comics series Casanova). The series was heavily inspired by Way’s love for comics like Grendel Tales and Doom Patrol.
Way has pointed to writer Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol as a particularly major influence (hence why Morrison appears in two music videos from My Chemical Romance’s 2010 album Danger Days: True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys). There are many similarities between the two stories, as both deal with an eccentric benefactor gathering together a strange, dysfunctional team of heroes to live in his mansion. Funnily enough, DC Universe’s Doom Patrol series and Netflix’s Umbrella Academy series will make their debut on the same day, February 15, 2019.
The original Umbrella Academy miniseries, Apocalypse Suite, made its debut in 2007. While Apocalypse Suite established the origin of the team, the book largely takes place in the year 1977, after the Hargreeves children have grown up and returned to mourn their dead father. Way specifically set the story in 1977 because it was the year of his birth. Readers would also come to learn that the world of Umbrella Academy follows its own alternate history, one altered both by Hargreeves’ fantastical inventions and the fact that JFK was never assassinated.
Way and Bá followed up Apocalypse Suite with Umbrella Academy: Dallas in 2008. This sequel unfolds in the aftermath of Apocalypse Suite and delves much deeper into the history and nature of this universe. Dallas uses the JFK assassination as a major plot point and also hints that the Hargreeves children and the dozens of other superhuman children born at the beginning of the series have divine origins.
Unfortunately for fans, it would be a full decade before the third Umbrella Academy miniseries, Hotel Oblivion, finally materialized, with Way and Bá’s other commitments slowing down progress on the book for a number of years. Hotel Oblivion debuted in November 2018 and is currently set to wrap up in May 2019.
Click here for a closer look at the three Umbrella Academy graphic novels.
Umbrella Academy: The Netflix Series
Umbrella Academy was originally optioned for film by Universal Pictures, with first Mark Bomback (The Wolverine) and then Rawson Marshall Thunder (Central Intelligence) hired to pen the screenplay. However, that adaptation failed to gain any lasting traction.
Instead, Universal announced in 2015 that Umbrella Academy was being developed for television instead. Two years later, Netflix revealed that it had acquired Umbrella Academy as part of its streaming lineup. Both Way and Bá were announced to be serving as executive producers, while Fargo writer Steve Blackman was named as showrunner.
The first season of Umbrella Academy will debut on Netflix on February 15, 2019. The series appears to be sticking closely to the premise of the first comic book series, Apocalypse Suite, as the show revolves around the six surviving Hargreeves siblings reuniting as adults to mourn their father’s passing and prevent a global apocalypse. The main difference is that the show will take place in the present rather than 1977.
The cast of Umbrella Academy includes Ellen Page (The White Violin), Tom Hopper (Spaceboy), Robert Sheehan (The Seánce), Emmy Raver-Lampman (The Rumor), David Castañeda (The Kraken), Aidan Gallagher (Number Five) and Colm Feore (Sir Reginald Hargreeves).
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.