After a long wait, The Umbrella Academy has finally made its debut on Netflix. Based on the comic book series by Gerard Way, former frontman of the band My Chemical Romance, the series took over ten years from inception to complete, much like the comic book upon which it is based.
The series is based on the aftermath of something that occurred years before. One day in the year 1989, 43 women who showed no signs of pregnancy gave birth to babies all on the same day. Of those 43 babies, seven of them were adopted by a man named Reginald Hargreeves. Hargreeves, played by Colm Feore, was a billionaire who abused the children and forced them to become superheroes of sorts. Only after Hargreeves’ death do these children meet again, now facing not only their own personal issues but also those of the world as they must confront an impending apocalypse.
Concerning why Netflix opted for a show rather than a film format, the ten-part series, starring Ellen Page, better allows for a more in-depth approach to the comic than a film would. According to Gerard Way, Universal Pictures ended up turning down the deal in 2008. It was then that Dark Horse Comics, who published the original comic version, decided to talk it over with Universal Cable Productions, proposing a series instead. It was then that distributors chomped at the bit to distribute the show. “Everybody we met wanted it, so we just got our pick,” Way claimed, and understandably, Netflix was their number one choice. “It was extremely exciting to suddenly realize we get ten hours of this thing at once,” Way told reporters, “and also I knew the production value was going to be extremely high. I couldn’t think of a better way to present Umbrella Academy to the world.” He added that making a series rather than a film was a more sensible choice. “In a lot of ways, [streaming] is the ultimate creative freedom,” Way claimed. “You always need some kind of limitations, so of course there’s budgetary limitations, but overall Netflix are really creator-friendly, and they really supported Steve’s vision of the show.”
Steve Blackman, who was also writer for FX’s Fargo and Legion, acted as showrunner for The Umbrella Academy. “In my mind, this is a dysfunctional family drama with a body count,” Blackman informed The Hollywood Reporter. “I wanted to get away from some of the tropes that we’d seen a million times, and lean into some ideas that were a little more Fargo, a little more Coen brothers, a little more Wes Anderson.” Regarding working with Way, Blackman seemed pleasantly surprised: “Gerard lived with [the comic] for so long, and a lot of the time people in that situation will come in with the attitude of ‘You can’t touch a thing, this is sacrosanct’. But Gerard was incredibly open to suggestions, and we collaborated well on expanding it, because my goal and Netflix’s goal was to bring a much bigger audience to this thing, and for someone who’d never head of The Umbrella Academy to find something they love in the show.”
Way was equally impressed by Blackman’s ability to focus both on maintaining the comic’s originality while also reaching a larger audience. “One of the things I’m happiest about that Steve did is he kept all the weird ideas, and the ones he couldn’t keep, he just altered slightly,” Way asserted. One example of this was the uniform choice. “Initially, we had very different ideas of what the uniforms were going to look like,” Way remarked. However, he was happy with Blackman’s choice, adding that “Steve had a direction he wanted to take them that would be a bit more grounded.” Additionally, some character changes were made, such as with Luther (played by Tom Hopper). In the comics, he was part man and part Martian gorilla. “The way Steve adapted that character onscreen was amazing to me, just in terms of making his body make more sense,” Way enthused. “There’s a real sadness to that character in the show, and a kind of naivety and innocence and boyishness that I love.”
Way and Blackman were both hopeful that more of the comics might make their way to Netflix if the series does well. Way is currently working on more novels, as well, with a third series debuting last year. The series is now available on Netflix. Watch the trailer for The Umbrella Academy below.