By Parinyaporn Pajee
THE YOUNGEST superhero franchise in show business is coming to Netflix starting on February 15 with a crew of unlikely but idealistic stars determined to save the world from danger.
“The Umbrella Academy” is a 10-episode series based on the popular, Eisner Award-winning comic books and graphic novels of the same name created and written by musician-singer Gerard Way of the band My Chemical Romance and illustrated by Gabriel Ba.
“‘The Umbrella Academy’ follows the estranged members of dysfunctional family of superheroes who work together to solve the mystery behind their adopted wealthy father Reginal Hargreeves’ death. They also need to save the world from the imminent threat of apocalypse,” said David Castaneda, who was recently in Singapore promoting the series with his co-star, Robert Sheehan.
Robert Sheehan, left, with his costar David Castaneda were in Singapore recently to promote new series “The Umbrella Academy”, which starts streaming on Netflix next month.
“What’s so great about the story is that it’s not yet been cemented as a great comic book – it’s still just a ‘child’ if you think about it. There’s only been two books and a third volume just came out, so there’s so much more depth left in the pond. It can get so much deeper and we have the opportunity to dive into that.
“With other comic books that have been coming out since the 1920s and 1940s, there are thousands and thousands of issues that you really can’t break away from.”
“So we have the opportunity to make it our own story in that sense.”
Published by Dark Horse Comics, “The Umbrella Academy” and two series of the book were released in quick succession in 2007 and 2008, with the third series coming out last year and this year.
The pilot episode of the series introduces the 43 characters – all born inexplicably on the same day in 1989 to random women who were not pregnant.
Billionaire industrialist Sir Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of them and created the Umbrella Academy to prepare his “children” to save the world. But not everything went according to plan. When the kids were still in their teens, the family fractured and the team disbanded.
The Umbrella Academy reunion including Number Five (Aiden Gallagher), left, who travels back into the present after 17 years and remains in the body of a 13-year-old.
It took Hargreeves’ death to reunite the six surviving members, now in their 30s. Luther (played by Tom Hopper from “Game of Thrones”), Diego (Castaneda), Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman), Klaus (Sheehan), Vanya (Ellen Page) and Number Five (Aidan Gallagher) decide to work together to solve the mystery surrounding their father’s death.
Also starring in the show are nine-time Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee Mary J Blige and Cameron Britton from Netflix’s psychological-crime drama “Mindhunter”. They both play ruthless and unorthodox hitmen who travel through time to kill their assigned targets.
Sheehan, who also appears in the just-released film “Mortal Engines”, agrees that “The Umbrella Academy” is different from other superhero yarns.
“The archetypal superhero film is, like, ‘They save the day’, whereas our series explores the necessity of failure,” he said in Singapore.
“We are a dysfunctional family. The core of our dysfunction is the fact that we’re not very good superheroes. Our millionaire, reclusive, strange adoptive father turned us into ‘superheroes’ when we were very young, but he didn’t give us a childhood. So we all grow up missing something emotionally and feel sort of like failures. We were manipulated and coerced into being superhero crime-fighters when we should have been nourished as children, so we all grew up a little bit traumatised.”
Naturally, all the academy members have their own unique powers. Luther is the strongest with the giant body of a Martian gorilla. Rebellious, father-loathing Diego became a vigilante like Batman. Allison can literally change reality by lying (much like a certain US politician).
Nine-time Grammy winner and two-time Oscar nominee Mary J Blige (left) and Cameron Britton play ruthless and unorthodox hitmen Cha Cha and Hazel in “The Umbrella Academy”.
Klaus is able to speak to the dead, which turns him into a drug addict. Number Five, who’s retained the appearance of a boy, can travel through time.
Vanya, on the other hand, seems to have no superpowers at all.
And each of them also suffers a unique pain held over from childhood experiences that drove them from home as soon as they were old enough to go.
“The six haven’t seen each other for 17 years and come back for the funeral,” Sheehan said. “Klaus is taking a lot of drugs to quiet the ‘voices’. His personal struggle has been externalised into the dead and he has the power to speak to them, but it’s more like a sickness, like a disability. He has to do great damage to his body to suppress it, and his journey is about figuring out ways of controlling this ability.”
Castaneda said his character, Diego, doesn’t believe he has a superpower like the others, so his tactical abilities get messed up with his emotional instability.
“So, when provoked, he immediately reacts with action rather than reason, and that gets him into a pickle with the siblings. He can’t cope with the fact that everybody has a special ability except him and yet they’re not using their powers for the right reasons. So they he builds up this animosity, and he becomes sort of like a joke because he takes his job too seriously.”
The Umbrella Academy returns home for the first time in 17 years after the death of their adopted father.
Each of the siblings bears a “palpable resentment”, Castaneda said, “and each of us has a different reason why we left”. The complexity of their group relationship distinguishes the academy from any other group of superheroes.
“These people have to save themselves before they can save the world – if they can’t find a way out of own trouble, they’re not going to be of any help to anyone else,” Castaneda said. “They stand out from all others in the superhero genre because there this element of morality. Someone like Superman or Batman would do whatever is right to help people, to sacrifice themselves, but we are so far different than that.”
Despite all the dysfunction and complexity, the series is never mired in psychological drama, Sheehan emphasised. On the contrary, it’s filled with hilarious comedy deriving from their personalities and there’s plenty of music too along the way.
The show portrays the life of a superhero in a new and different from what we’ve seen before and that will give the whole genre a new direction.
That view of superheroes is what he likes most about the series.
“I like the idea that it’s okay to fail. In fact, failure is absolutely necessary to success. You have to fail to know which way to go next, and that’s not something that’s understood well enough these days. It’s harder to fail these days and get back up and do whatever because there’s more riding on every attempt to do something.
“Failure can damage personal reputations, but we’re human and we all fail every day – it’s absolutely essential to being human. We can’t all be successes all day long – it’s not very interesting.
“So I think our show is about superheroes who fail,” Sheehan said. “You’re looking through the back door of their house and you’re watching them just be human and be failures and I think that’s a nice message to take away.”