In the age of comic book movies and tv shows we’ve seen a wide range of both good and bad adaptations, with the best able to adapt and alter the story whilst keeping with the intended tone and spirit, whereas the worst all but butcher the source material and are often using it as nothing more than a cash grab. Thankfully for Umbrella Academy fans, the live-action Netflix show is certainly the former, keeping to the themes and heart of the comic books, and yet adding a lot more intrigue and character development along the way, totalling to an impressive new level of ‘adaption’.
The show explores the relationships and dynamic between a now adult group of former superheroes, who were all mysteriously born on the same day to different women that previously showed absolutely no signs of being pregnant before giving birth. After 47 of these children were born across the world Sir Reginald Hargreaves managed to adopt 7 of them, and after their powers were revealed he turned them into ‘The Umbrella Academy’ a juvenile superhero squad intended to protect and one day save the world.
As nice as that may sound, Hargreaves was actually a terrible father, showing no love or regard for the children’s lives, giving them numbers rather than names, and only fostering tension, dysfunction and problems between them. The bulk of the show then picks up years later as all of the siblings have grown up, and tried to move on, but are forced back together, and to the Academy, after Hargreaves’ mysterious death.
The primary set up for the story is mirrored between the comics and the live action show, but from there on out there is a large number of differences between the two. There are some small and relatively inconsequential ones such as having eight days to save the world, rather than three, and a lack of talking chimps (other than Pogo), but also bigger ones revolving around people having different powers, like Klaus not being able to fly, certain characters, such as Hazel and Cha Cha, have a lot more depth, character and personality, and even the backstory between the Academy are all at least a little different between the comics and the show.
On top of differing dynamics between Academy members (with Diego and Vanya not having any hint at a romantic past at all), the first season combines elements from the first two Umbrella Academy stories, ‘The Apocalypse Suite’ and ‘Dallas’, and in doing so brings a lot from both, but also loses much of their details and subplots as well.
And yet, despite a number of changes and alterations there is no denying that the show still feels remarkably true to the source material, in spirit at least. Plenty of things are different, but almost all of them are for the better, and at the heart of this adaption is a whole lot more emotion, humanity, and depth for pretty much every character involved.
Changes like Number 1 keeping his part human/part ape body a secret manages to add a whole new level of intrigue and emotional depth to his character. In the same vein, the addition of a real relationship between Diego and Grace (‘Mom’), more scenes of Number 5 and his mannequin girlfriend Dolores, Klaus being in communication with the spirit of Ben (the only dead member of the Academy), and even simple scenes like Alison and Vanya going out for drinks, add a huge sense of development and depth to the characters, making them that much more real.
Similarly the bigger changes, such as Carmichael changing from a human body with a goldfish bowl for a head into a woman simply named ‘the Handler’, and Number’s 5’s new (albeit brief) role within the organisation, new and vital characters like Howard Jenkins, and even the events surrounding the looming apocalypse, are all Cleary different and yet all manage to keep within the same tone and scope of the comic. And so the show is able to remain wholly ‘Umbrella Academy’ whilst adding some fun new twists to a number of characters, that only enrich the overall story.
Everything the show does is impressively different, right up until its cliffhanger ending which leaves just the right amount of questions and intrigue. Overall Netflix’s Umbrella Academy is a superb adaptation, that has some impressive action, solid character development, perfectly utilises some great licensed music, and adds a number of new twists, turns, and takes on characters whilst keeping the spirit of everything that makes The Umbrella Academy so unique.