The Umbrella Academy comes with a strong My Chemical Romance influence, and this is one of the show's greatest strengths. Released on Netflix earlier this year to much fanfare, The Umbrella Academy is based on a series of comics written by Gerard Way. Unlike many comic writers, however, Way has not spent his career penning adventures for Marvel and DC's finest, but performing as the lead singer of platinum-selling rock band, My Chemical Romance. MCR disbanded in 2013 at the peak of their popularity and Way has intermittently worked on a solo career, but when Netflix began developing a live action adaptation of his The Umbrella Academy, Way joined the production as an executive producer.
While The Umbrella Academy has been praised for its tight scripts, slick action and interesting characters, the story remains a superhero tale at its core, and the tropes of time traveling to prevent the apocalypse and jaded, dysfunctional superheroes rediscovering their purpose are nothing new to the genre. It's strange then, that The Umbrella Academy feels so unique and distinct, standing proudly apart from the abundance of superpower-based media propagating the current market, and the key factor responsible is the parallels the show shares with My Chemical Romance.
Aesthetically, both The Umbrella Academy and MCR share the same quirky gothic overtones blended with a smattering of pop culture references. Never just a singer, Gerard Way also produced some of MCR's artwork and the band boasted a strong visual style that informed their music videos, live shows and merchandise. Blending Tim Burton's dreamlike darkness with the early 20th century surrealism of directors such as Georges Méliès, The Umbrella Academy, like MCR during their Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge days, presents a dark, whimsical world that superheroes don't usually populate. Visual influence from MCR's Danger Days album can be found in the designs of Hazel, Cha-Cha and the Commission.
This same approach bleeds into The Umbrella Academy's writing style. Throughout the Netflix series, there is a strong black humor, where deeply unsettling scenes or subject matter is wrapped up in comedic directing and jaunty, upbeat pop music. The scene where a young Vayna is murdering her way through a procession of nannies, for example, should be deeply disturbing, but is actually made to feel darkly amusing thanks to the overblown deaths and French folk song playing in the background. Drawing humor from subjects that inherently shouldn't be funny was a key trick for MCR, who tackled the subject of death with catchy melodies and pop-punk guitar riffs and used song titles such as "You Know What They Do To Guys Like Us In Prison."
Several of The Umbrella Academy's main characters can be traced back to Gerard Way's musical exploits, perhaps the most obvious of which is Ellen Page's Vayna. After being ignored and made to feel worthless for much of her childhood, Vayna grows up to discover that she's the most powerful of the Umbrella gang, channeling her power through a love of music. The theme of a child misfit blossoming in adult life is prevalent throughout MCR's lyrics and Way himself has admitted to feeling like an outsider prior to becoming one of the most revered frontmen in modern rock.
Another part of Way's time in MCR is reflected in Klaus, played by Robert Sheehan. When The Umbrella Academy begins, Klaus is using a constant intake of drugs and alcohol to dull his power to conjure the dead, but when he finally gets clean, Klaus discovers a new level to his ability far greater than anything he previously imagined. This arc mirrors Gerard Way's own struggles as a lead singer. When MCR first began to gain momentum in the mid-2000s, Way wouldn't be able to perform without drinking beforehand, but after tackling his addiction, the band would go on to reach even greater heights. The real life connections behind the likes of Vanya and Klaus is arguably what makes the characters feel so well-rounded and fascinating.
Even without the My Chemical Romance connections, The Umbrella Academy is still a very good, unconventional superhero series. But the influence of Gerard Way's former life generates a more unique flavor, elevating The Umbrella Academy to an entirely new level.
The Umbrella Academy is confirmed for a second season on Netflix. More news as it arrives.