Gerard Way. If you're a 16 year old over-excited Emo girl, you probably think the sun shines out of his cock ring. Maybe it does. I'm 38, male, and very dull. That said, I don't mind a bit of My Chemical Romance. I'm still down with the kids enough to recognise a good tune when I hear it and Teenagers fulfills that criteria (though probably not the radio edit).
Anyway, where was I? This is a comics blog. Save the music stuff for your own site, Rol. When I first heard that Gerard Way was writing comics as well as being chauffeured round America in a tourbus made of voluntarily donated virgin's cheeks and dolly mixture, I reacted in the way most sad, small press losers would - by calling him a tourist. Bad enough we've got screenwriters like J. Michael Straczynski and Allen Heinberg slumming it in comics... now I have to compete with freaking pop stars too? How utterly ludicrous. Like Gerard Way writing a comic is somehow going to stop Joe Quesada or Axel Rose or whoever's running Marvel this week from calling me up and offering me a gig! But seriously, that's how we think, isn't it? Deluded hacks r us. (Well, r me, anyway.)
Then Grant Morrison got on board and decided to start recommending Umbrella Academy at which point Way decided to repay the compliment by casting Morrison as a surprisingly convincing supervillain in his latest round of promo gubbins... and the whole incestuous celebrity applecart upset itself upon my fragile credibility detection monitor (a particularly laboured metaphor, I know, but it sums up how I felt). No Way was I reading this comic.
And then I saw the first Umbrella Academy trade on eBay for £4 (+ £2 p&p) and the fact that I had some money in my Paypal account and it was drawn by Gabriel Ba (who does excellent work on Casanova) and I actually quite like the new MCR album swayed me enough to put all my prejudices aside and give it a shot. If it was rubbish, I was confident I could resell it for a profit just by putting Gerard Way's name in the listing title. I've been selling on eBay long enough to know that sort of thing makes a difference.
So... paragraph five, and we finally get to the review. You can tell why Grant Morrison rates this book, since it is hugely influenced by his amusing and at times mindboggling run on Doom Patrol back in the late 80s. It's not quite as good, but few things are. Way has an excellent way with storytelling. He has a large cast and a lot of backstory, but he refuses to get bogged down with exposition. At times this can be a wee bit frustrating - I actually want him to sit me down and spoon feed me each character's name and powers and history every issue - but if I put that aside and just enjoy the thrill ride, there's exhilarating and (at times) original comic book fun to be had.
Way gets the origin story out of the way in the first few pages. 43 extraordinary children are born at the same moment. 7 of them are adopted by a wealthy inventor / scientist / philanthropist / space alien (love the way he chucks that last one in as a tease then never mentions it again... not yet, anyway) and grow up to be kid superheroes. They have many exciting adventures - illustrated by an immense battle with an out-of-control Eiffel Tower - and then grow up and fall apart for reasons yet to be disclosed. The death of their "father" and an unknown threat from the future (and from within their own ranks) brings them back together as adults... and that's just the first issue.
Way's script swings gleefully from cartoon shenanigans to emotional realism, from horror to sci fi to comedy. There's a maturity to his writing you really don't expect from a novice to comics - and especially not from a tourist. Ba's art meanwhile is wonderful, recalling Richard Case, Eduardo Risso, Geoff Darrow, Mike Mignola and Mike Oeming, among others, with a spectacular sense of design and loads of hidden detail. It really does make me quite sick just how much I enjoyed this comic... and though I did buy it on the ration, I'd have happily paid full price.