Comic books are filled with troupes, well worn and often overdone. For example, there’s only so many times you can kill Robin before you run out of Robins, which DC has. Or bring a character back from the dead before it becomes old hat, which it has. Or go back in time, or stop the apocalypse, or force an old hero team to reform.
The thing with troupes is that they’re troupes because we enjoy them, they show up so often in media because people like them. The problem is when the same troupe is constantly being used and bigger problem is when it’s poorly executed. Which is most of Marvel and DC’s output currently.
However, Netflix’s newest original series “The Umbrella Academy”, based on the comic of the same name by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá, is the perfect example of troupes done well.
The Hargreeves are a family of superheroes. As kids they were the world’s premiere hero team, who as adults have become estranged but now must reconnect following their father’s death and missing brother’s sudden reappearance.
With Five showing up after having been missing since they were thirteen, he comes heralding the apocalypse, claiming to have gone to the future and seen the world after it ends and stressing that they must try and prevent this.
While he was gone, Five ran afoul of an agency that fixes possible discrepancies in the timeline, by way of time traveling assassins.
So let’s recap; they’re a hero team that was reformed to stop the apocalypse and wind up playing roulette with the timeline. If that sounds familiar then I would like to point you back the the first paragraph, last line.
Everything about the show is a troupe, from the characters’ personalities to the action scenes of gratuitous violence over upbeat music. (Though I will stand by the donut shop scene with Five and They Might Be Giants’ “Istanbul” as a cinematic masterpiece.) We have all seen variations of these themes before, multiple times over.
The difference between “The Umbrella Academy” and say, any given story arc of a Titans comic, is that the troupes are presented in an engaging and entertaining way. With the characters and their relationships being the center of the plot rather than the impending doom itself.
At the heart of the show is siblings who were severely emotionally abused by their father and as adults must now deal with the consequences. Most of them haven’t spoken in years and they’re all keeping secrets from each other; traumas that they feel forced to bear alone.
Yes, the characters’ individual plots, as well as the overarching series plot, are pulled directly from the first two mini-series but the characters are much further developed than in the comics and that makes the series. They become so real and relatable, and frustrating and heartbreaking, in their own individual ways that you care more about them than the fate of the world.
This is why Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” succeeds with its troupes when so many comics fail. The focus isn’t on the troupes, but on the relationships of the characters. Something that DC and Marvel should definitely take note of.