The Umbrella Academy: The Biggest Differences Between the Comics and the Show
[Full Spoilers for The Umbrella Academy Season 1]
The Umbrella Academy succeeds in a number of ways, managing to deliver a great show in its own right, one that explores the lives of a group of dysfunctional former superheroes, but its most impressive attribute is how it adapts its comic book source material.
The show manages to alter a number of events, characters, and consequences, all whilst keeping the spirit and tone of the comics, allowing for not just a great show, but a great adaptation as well.
That said, along with some smaller changes like having eight days to save the world rather than three, there are some pretty big differences between the live-action Netflix show, and the hit comics book series, here is our list of the biggest alterations we noticed.
Swapping A Murderous Eiffel Tower for a Bank Heist
In the comics, the first set piece of the series comes during the early pages of The Umbrella Academy’s first issue. The scene pits the Academy against a seemingly sentient Eiffel Tower (which actually turns out to be a weapon controlled by ‘Zombie Robot Gustave Eiffel’).
As well as showcasing a group of ten year old heroes taking on the Eiffel Tower, and essentially setting the tone of the book from then on, the scene also marks the teams debut to the world, as well as showing that Hargreeves considers Number 7 to be the least special, and even a quick line about Number 5 not being there as he ran away.
In the Netflix show, presumably due to budgetary constraints, much of the work the Eiffel Tower scene does (introducing the team to the world, showing the divide between Number 7 and her siblings etc.) is instead done during a sequence where the ten-year-old Academy thwarts a bank robbery, somewhere in America. Just as the scene sets the tone in the opening pages of the comics, similarly the live action version shows off the idea that although certain storylines and events are going to be a little different, the same spirit of the source material is clearly still there.
There is also a brief reference to the Eiffel Tower scene later in the show, when we see a flashback to Alison and her daughter Claire. Before being put to sleep, Claire asks to hear about the ‘Eiffel Tower’ seemingly confirming that the event (or at least a similar one) did happen at some point in the show’s past.
Number 1’s (Somewhat Obvious) Secret
One of the bigger elements of Luther’s character in the first few episodes is that he is clearly hiding his body from the rest of the world. But after the fight with Hazel and Cha Cha during the third episode Number 1’s gorilla-esque torso is revealed. Objectively you can understand why he may want to hide it, but for comics fans, this is a wholly new addition to the story.
In fact, the first scene showing the adult Academy starts with Luther in space, just as it does in the show, but in the comics we see a newspaper clipping in Number 1’s moon base, showing that after an accident on a mission to Mars Hargreeves performed emergency experimental surgery on Luther in order to save his life, giving him a whole new body in the process (a sequence we actually see in a later episode).
In the comics, it’s clear that the world knows about these events (hence the newspaper article) and so Luther/Number 1/Spaceboy doesn’t make any effort to hide his body, instead walking around in minimal clothing almost always. In the show however no-one else knows about Luther’s new body, and he clearly wants to keep it that way.
A Very Different Funeral
In the show, all living and accounted for members of The Umbrella Academy meet at the house to remember their father and spread his ashes, with Number 5 jumping back in time shortly before (whilst everyone else is already at the house).
In the comics however the funeral scene plays out a little differently, firstly Number 7 isn’t there at all, further showing her exclusion from the rest of the family, and Number 5 has already come back from the future, so is actually at the house before any of his siblings.
Narrative-wise the funeral acts as the main reason for getting all of these characters back together, and is a smart alteration for the show to include Number 7 earlier on, with 5 arriving later, allowing us to see each of the characters, now adults, meet up and interact as early as possible (before the primary threat of the coming apocalypse is established).
Another of the bigger differences in the comics is that Sir Reginald’s will states that the Academy are all to wear their original superhero outfits, and just after the ceremony a number of robots (explained to be the creations of an old Academy enemy; Dr Terminal) attack a nearby carnival, forcing the team into action.
Sir Reginald and Number 5
Although it’s clear throughout the show that Sir Reginald Hargreeves was far from an ideal (or even remotely good) parent, one thing we learn early on is that the show’s version of Hargreeves seemingly never gave up hoping that Number 5 would return.
We see that Hargreeves actually kept a portrait of Number 5 above the fireplace, apparently commemorating his son, and showing that he hoped he would come back (which is actually confirmed to Number 5, from Vanya). In the comics, however, during the opening battle against the Eiffel Tower, in response to Number 7 asking where 5 is, Hargreeves says “The future I presume… Run away from home, no doubt. I can’t be sure… Nor can I be bothered“.
This stands as one of the more subtle changes, as Hargreeves was still a pretty bad parent generally, but does add a little more complexity to him, and his relationship with at least one of his children.
A large thread of Number 5’s return to the past (or present depending on how you want to look at it) is him tracking down the owner of a prosthetic eye. He found the eye grasped in the hand of a dead Number 1 at some point after the apocalypse and decides that it must have a connection to whoever killed the Academy and began the apocalypse in the first place.
5’s investigation on the eye fuels much of his early story on the show, which is why it’s an interesting addition as the eye isn’t in the comics, with 5’s motivations simply being to stop the apocalypse any way he can.
Hazel and Cha Cha Have Some Depth (and Faces)
In the comics Hazel and Cha Cha are relatively simple, villainous time travelling assassins (if that’s a job you describe as ‘simple’ that is). They clearly enjoy violence, love their work, and that’s almost everything all we learn about them. We also never see the duo out of their masks.
In the show however we spend most of our time with the duo whilst out of their masks (they even go as far as throwing them away at one point), and it’s safe to say that they are pretty significant characters in terms of the story and its development. In fact, the two are clearly one of the best parts of the show.
Although it contradicts with what we know about the duo from the comics a little, the relationship turned rivalry between the two, the live action version of Hazel wanting out of the time travelling hitman life, their interactions with each other, and the rest of the characters, are all clear highlights of the show, and all of them managed to turn some relatively one-note bad guys into some real, in-depth, and interesting characters.
The Return of Number 6
Although the live action version of Number 4 a.k.a Klaus (or ‘Seance’) is a much more ‘de-powered’ version than comics fans are used to (his lack of flying being the main difference), there is an interesting new addition to his story, in that he seems to have been in constant communication with the spirit of the dead Number 6. (a.k.a Ben, a.k.a ‘the Horror’).
Interestingly Ben appears to have aged with his still living siblings (although admittedly it isn’t totally clear if he died when still a kid or not) and tries to help Klaus as much as a spirit can. This is a wholly new element for the show, as despite Klaus being able to commune with the dead in the comics, he doesn’t have Ben as a constant companion/spirit guide.
Number 2’s Relationship with (and Murder of) ‘Mom’
With Sir Reginald Hargreeves hardly one to fulfil many (or any) parental duties, he created a robot mother for his adoptive children. Grace only makes a brief appearance in the comics, but is quickly revealed to be a robot by Number 2, who clearly hates her and doesn’t want her at Hargreeves’ funeral – he even goes as far as calling her a ‘piece of plastic’.
In the show, however, Diego appears to be the closest to Grace out of all of the Academy members, with a number of scenes showing their relationship and how she helped him overcome a speech impediment when he was a child. Loving relationship aside, he does kill her in the show (albeit only temporarily), which also doesn’t happen in the comics.
At the end of the sixth episode, Number 5 once again turns on The Commission and manages to rewind a day, which for the most part manages to undo a number of happier events, swapping them for significantly more tragic ones. The second time around a number of things (thanks to Number 5’s presence this time) are different.
This leads to the whole Academy acting out a completely different version of the day. Although there is plenty of time travel in the comics, this particular sequence is another brand new addition for the show that isn’t in the source material.
Howard is probably the most impactful new character to the series, being the one who unleashes Vanya’s powers and encourages her to embrace them. His own story turns out to be quite interesting as well and is deeply tied to the early days of the Academy. In many ways, Howard combines new elements with hints of ‘the Conductor’ from the comics, who similarly uses Vanya’s powers to attack the Academy (and destroy the world).
Klaus Going to Vietnam Alone
In the second volume of the comics ‘Dallas’ shows Number 5 being forced to go back in time and prevent his former self from stopping JFK’s assassination (something he did right before returning to the present). When Numbers 1, 2, and 4 find out they decide to make their own way back in time and stop him. Accidentally travelling back a few years earlier than they intended and to Vietnam, meaning they get caught right in the middle of the Vietnam war.
Although the show may explore the JFK element in its second season, it’s clear the Vietnam part of that story has already been used up with Klaus’ accidental time travel trip. There he meets and falls in love with Dave (which contrasts with Klaus fathering a child there in the comics), all of which eventually leads to him trying to get sober and thus being able to harness his full powers (minus the flying).
Although filling almost the same role ‘The Commission’ was an organisation called ‘Temps Aeternalis’ in the comics, and are responsible for ensuring the timeline stays intact. Just like we see in the show they recruit Number 5 from the future and he goes on to become one of their top agents before returning to the present.
In addition to a different name for the organisation itself ‘The Handler’ also doesn’t exist in the comics, instead, the closest character is Shubukin Goldfish, a human body with a fishbowl (complete with fish) for a head. Shubukin Goldfish is codenamed Carmichael and was Number 5’s commanding officer (and the person who trained him). In the comics, Carmichael is the one who comes back to make sure Number 5 goes through with the JFK assassination and is also the one who makes a deal with him (much like the Handler does in the show).
Temps Aeternalis, Carmichael, and Hazel and Cha Cha mostly feature in the second Umbrella Academy story (Dallas), whereas this first season of the show combines numerous parts of the Apocalypse Suite and Dallas (extremely well), this being one of the biggest.
A big part of the early episodes is trying to find out how and why Reginald Hargreeves died, with Number 1 taking the apparent lack of logic behind his father’s death (and his missing Monocle) particularly hard.
After a number of twists and turns in the investigation, the Academy eventually discovers that Hargreeves, in fact, killed himself (with Pogo and Grace in on the plan but sworn to secrecy), with his suicide part of a plan to reunite the Academy, so that they had a fighting chance against the looming apocalypse. In the comics, Hargreeves’ death is confirmed to have no foul-play at all, turning out to simply be a natural death (although that again could have been a part of his plan).
God and Heaven
Although Klaus’ powers are quite different in the show, one of his biggest scenes from the comics still plays a huge part in the show, with an expected twist. In the comics Hazel and Cha Cha capture and torture Klaus for information on Number Five which we see in the show.
In the comics, however, they actually kill Klaus, sending him to Heaven, whereas the show sees Klaus killed during a fight at a rave, while Number 1 is letting loose (seemingly for the first time ever). Just like in the comics, Klaus dies, goes to heaven (which is black and white), and sees God. Except rather than a cowboy on a horse like the books show, God is a young girl on a bike – other than that pretty large difference the actual conversation is mostly the same.
The main difference comes afterwards where Klaus has a conversation with his father, who reveals the truth about his death, that Klaus has much more power than he realises, and explains why he needed the Academy back together. It’s a smart and important scene that gives a lot of answers and payoff, and generally speaking, makes a pretty good addition to the story.
Diego and Vanya’s (Lack of) Romance
Although it’s less obvious and impactful as the romantic thread between Number 1 and Number 3, the second Umbrella Academy story, ’Dallas’, shows (or at least hints at) Number 2 and Number 7 also being romantically involved when they were younger.
Not only where they seemingly together, but they also starred in a band, and were even going to run away together, until 7 realised that The Academy needed 2, and decided to leave for Paris without him.
On Number 2’s part he seems to of had a doomed to fail romance with Detective Patch when he was younger (another character created for the show), and of course in the show Number 7 has Howard Jenkins, but there are no hints what so ever of the two having a romantic link, perhaps leaving it open for exploration in future seasons.
(Definitely Not A) Planet of the Chimps
Another of the larger, and yet admittedly inconsequential, alterations is the lack of other chimps in the world. We see plenty of Pogo, who is rendered with some great graphics and a pitch-perfect performance by Adamn Godley, but he is the only talking chimp we see.
This contrasts heavily with the comics, where we see a whole race of intelligent, talking chimps with their own jobs, stores (and strip clubs). It’s a small (presumably budgetary) contrast that really doesn’t alter the story much, but it’s notable one nonetheless.
Overall, however, despite a number of changes both big and small, the show is a superb series both in its own right and as an adaption – click HERE for a full account on how we think it’s additions and alterations takes the term ‘adaption’ to new heights, and HERE for a more in-depth explanation on the ending and what it could mean for a second season.