(W) Gerard Way (A) Gabriel Ba’
Ten years ago, an American rock and roll icon and a Brazilian artist won an Eisner Award for The Umbrella Academy; and in Fall 2018 the two men return for Volume 3 of the series: Hotel Oblivion. Issue #1 starts off with a surreal gothic art-deco/nouveau portrayal of a world that, even without having read the previous volumes, indicates a rich setting to come. While this comic is a continuation of a series, Bá uses full pages to describe the mood of Hotel Oblivion without words, which helpfully pulls us into the world without having to have read everything before it. By the time the title page emerges, it’s clear the hotel is more Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas than Oceans 11, but expectations shatter as the comic opens up with a car chase already in progress.
As a travel montage from Tokyo to Wisconsin introduces the rest of the story’s cast, a rich colorful world begins to appear from beneath the page. There’s great moments of comedy as these bizarre people choose to work together, and the levity helps with what reads closer to detective-noir than superhero drama. Dialogue in Hotel Oblivion plays out like a 3-camera sitcom, with tight angles on faces drawn to pull together the speech bubbles with a character that has personality. There’s a beautiful amount of detail throughout this comic, and it’s vaguely futuristic (more retro-futurist/ steampunk) style of technology and powers makes it impossible to predict where the story is going to go next. It lends itself enough style with the art that there’s always a way to have the action be more important than whether the scene is perfect.
When I first tried to describe the premise of The Umbrella Academy, I thought: “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Hellboy” which isn’t fair but is a weather-vane in a direction. The art has a kind of bright unnatural skew, which helps the suspension of disbelief that any of these characters could happen. ‘Reginald Hargreeves’ is featured on the title page, a name that lets me know right away what kind of setting awaits. There’s a sense that behind the page is a British accent sipping tea as zeppelins meander through the sky, but luckily each character brings that same weight to their role. Like how the introduction of a man named ‘The Fierce Number Five” conjures up a Death Race or James Bond villain, The Umbrella Academy does a lot of work with those kinds of linguistic choices. Grounding a less traditional superhero comic, like this, in strong archetypal language demonstrates a strength in author Gerard Way’s ability to transform his writing into something with mass appeal.
The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion is a return to form, if history is to be believed. It’s clear that this story intends to stand on its’ own as a comic with an original idea and tale to tell. The question creeping out through the pages for a lot of the “heroes” is how to deal with power(s). We see someone learning to walk again at The Academy, flush against a page reminding our hero that her powers can fix this person. “You know it doesn’t work like that,” is the only comfort we’re given, but that conflict has me sold on seeing where it ends up. Mysterious locations and enigmatic characters keep the reader guessing and chasing dialogue from frame to frame with a kind of ease that makes it clear this Seven-Part Series will be an exciting one.