Comics On TV

Daddy Issues Fuel The Umbrella Academy’s Weird Superhero Family

Series stars Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Mary J. Blige, and more reveal the toxic environments that created Netflix's new superheroes.

by | February 7, 2019 | Comments

When audiences discover The Umbrella Academy on Netflix, they will be introduced to a very different sort of superhero family. As actor Aidan Gallagher, who plays the time-lost Number Five, put it when Rotten Tomatoes spoke with the cast, “[The characters] are not seen at great heights.” Instead, the series focuses on the group, formerly a teen superhero team with fantastic abilities, at “rock bottom a lot of times.”

As in the graphic novel series by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba upon which the show is based, the characters face the legacy of a choice made by their adoptive father Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore). In the series backstory, a number of children were born at the same time on the same day despite the fact their mothers — themselves not connected in any way — had not been pregnant when the day began. Already a famous adventurer, Hargreeves tries to adopt these special children, and succeeds at collecting several of them. He surmised that they would have extraordinary abilities and prove instrumental in saving the world.


Click to view full image.

Spectacularly ill-equipped to raise children, Hargreeves failed to give them names; they would receive them after Number Five disappeared around age 12. Treating them as test subjects and then as tools to prop up his planned superhero team, Hargreeves left the children with serious cases of emotional neglect.

“On top of dealing with the emotional neglect and narcissism of the father, they are obviously going into extremely violent situations. So they have that added layer of insanity,” Ellen Page, who plays Vanya, noted when Rotten Tomatoes spoke with the series’ stars.

“They weren’t allowed to be kids,” explained Emmy Raver-Lampman, who plays Allison (formerly Number Three).

In lieu of “running around and scraping their knees,” the kids were subjected to rigorous training regimens to hone their abilities. Allison’s, for example, allows her to plant powerful suggestions in peoples’ minds. The situation only became worse as the kids reached an age at which Hargreeves could present them to the public as the Umbrella Academy.

“They also had the weight of the world on their shoulders,” Raver-Lampman said. “Being put in situations where they’re seeing horribly graphic stuff and doing very violent things to other humans at such a young age.”


Click to view full image.

Tom Hopper, who plays devoted son Luther (aka Number One) explained: “They’re all massively affected by their relationship with their dad.” As he continues to be loyal to Hargreeves when the series begins, he faces a great challenge when his father turns up dead: forcing the family to reunite for a funeral and an investigation into his death.

But all of the children, now adults (even Number Five, though he looks 12 thanks to some time-travel weirdness), must come to grips with the neglect and abuse Hargreeves inflicted upon them. It is part of the reason David Castañeda, who plays Diego (Number Two), has a hard time seeing Umbrella Academy as being anything like a traditional superhero show. “There was this [aspect] about child abuse,” he said. At it happens, Diego operates like traditional vigilante with police contacts and other familiar trappings. But unlike many other television vigilantes (and some members of the Academy), he accesses his emotions in a more open way.


Click to view full image.

“He’s very much outspoken in what he feels,” Castañeda said.  “And he’s not afraid to kinda react on them.” His willingness to react brings him into conflict with the more closed-off Luther on many occasions.

Unlike Diego, Klaus (Number Four) numbs out the pain of the neglect (and the literal voices of the dead his ability allows him to hear) with copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. The dichotomy of a broken superhero attracted actor Robert Sheehan to the part.

“It’s much more interesting, I think, to show people who are supposedly super or have these allegedly super abilities couched in a very normal, familial, dysfunctional context,” Sheehan explained. “All the great comic books are abstract manifestations of existing human qualities. Super strength, invisibility, these are all emotional states you might say that have been abstracted. The show takes the focus off the ability and focuses on the emotional state that causes the ability.”


Click to view full image.

Of all the children, Vanya has the strongest claim that Hargreeves neglected her. Despite being born under the same circumstances as the others, Vanya never manifested powers. Consequently, Hargreeves isolated her from the other children, and she never became a number of the Umbrella Academy. But her pain goes deeper than just Hargreeves’ emotional neglect.

“Vanya has this extra layer in terms of just being ostracized by the whole family,” Page explained. “[She’s] just so profoundly isolated and constantly reminded that she wasn’t special, so she grows up with such a deep sense of worthlessness.”

When audiences meet Vanya, they will see someone who has internalized that isolation and witness the toll it takes on her — even as she is forced into contact with her family after many years.


The Umbrella Academy Credit: Netflix

Nevertheless, the sense that the characters were neglected as children permeates the series – even infecting the outlook of antagonists Hazel (Cameron Britton) and Cha-Cha (Mary J. Blige), a pair of time-traveling assassins with instructions to eliminate one of the Hargreeves clan.

“I think Cha-Cha is emotional neglect,” Britton joked.

“She was definitely neglected somewhere in her life,” Blige added.

And just as Umbrella Academy spins its heroes into survivors of childhood emotional neglect, its villains also face some serious soul searching during their latest mission. “How often do you have a bad guy like Hazel that doesn’t know who he is? Bad guys always know who they are,” Britton said. “They’ve always got that covered, but he’s mixed up and torn up and his only friend in the whole world, his only companion he could relate to in any way, is a f—ing sociopath.”


Click to view full image.

Though the characters face a tough battle in coming to terms with the neglect they suffered in the past, Umbrella Academy takes them on a journey with as much humor as melancholy. According to Sheehan, it reflects the “great conundrum of the tragicomedy of being alive.”

But was Hargreeves really the cruel and distant father his adopted children believe him to be?

“I feel like he imagined they would serve a purpose, which is one day save the world, and he doesn’t fool himself into thinking he has to love them to do that,” executive producer and showrunner Steve Blackman explained. “They are these special things, and he will train them and he will bring them to this place. But he’s forgotten that there’s emotions involved with these little kids, and he’s completely removed himself from that, to their detriment.”


Click to view full image.

Umbrella Academy co-creator Way had a different take on Hargreeves: “I don’t think he’s as much of a monster as he looks like,” he said. Though, with a moment’s reflection, he added, “he is and was a monster to those kids. That’s indisputable.”

And, perhaps, embracing that fact will allow the members of the Umbrella Academy (and Vanya) a space to heal – although Sheehan is convinced they will have to heal together.

“For better or for worse, these siblings are bonded together for life because they all went through a relatively similar emotional trauma that was unique to their family,” he said. “And I think the closest they can come to peace is when they’re together, which ultimately is sort of a catch-22 because they all remind each other of that dynamic and that trauma growing up. But they are emotionally strongest when they are facing the world together.”


Click to view full image.

The Umbrella Academy launches on Netflix on February 15, 2019. 

 

Tag Cloud

Polls and Games scary mission: impossible international chucky TBS emmy awards trophy historical drama Universal Pictures Country police drama 90s Schedule Nat Geo french BBC America Food Network know your critic toy story X-Men target tv talk batman spanish Exclusive Video concert Academy Awards OneApp rt labs Britbox Drama Ovation Comics on TV Emmy Nominations Baby Yoda popular reviews news cancelled TV series VOD Winners Turner series Photos genre 007 Apple TV+ discovery E! Set visit psychological thriller Image Comics asian-american Pirates art house VH1 harry potter binge Fox News CNN nbcuniversal what to watch Reality Competition directors disaster sopranos vs. Hallmark Christmas movies thriller Comic-Con@Home 2021 Amazon Studios CBS USA First Reviews gangster 2015 obi wan DGA pirates of the caribbean Musical Anna Paquin Black History Month PlayStation Best Director justice league 99% Countdown dogs blockbusters marvel cinematic universe E3 RT History Oscars adaptation worst movies Cosplay Best Picture social media italian 2019 Ellie Kemper mcc south america toronto dc legend Trivia king kong BET IFC Films spinoff space remakes composers cancelled television children's TV Animation wonder woman See It Skip It Freeform GIFs robots reboot slashers Arrowverse franchise Watching Series Lionsgate Funimation natural history The Witch Brie Larson Disney Channel APB Certified Fresh Opinion New York Comic Con Fox Searchlight History 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards streaming mutant Chernobyl comic books The Arrangement nature MCU spider-man The CW universal monsters green book debate Sci-Fi latino lord of the rings Character Guide indie Elton John CMT animated superman Hallmark Mystery 4/20 GLAAD Sundance Christmas spain Marvel Television posters 1990s festival king arthur Broadway Tubi independent First Look Pet Sematary GoT Calendar Epix true crime Walt Disney Pictures hispanic heritage month scene in color Mindy Kaling Crackle Disney+ Disney Plus NBC Martial Arts sports Mary poppins Women's History Month Box Office Rocketman 2018 technology deadpool Best Actress docudrama game of thrones mockumentary Rocky A&E Infographic Action politics HBO Max MSNBC comics book Classic Film period drama casting twilight El Rey DC Universe Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt TIFF Tumblr Writers Guild of America San Diego Comic-Con worst crime drama Podcast BET Awards Crunchyroll jurassic park zero dark thirty television ITV Emmys documentaries hollywood supernatural scorecard cancelled TV shows werewolf basketball RT21 zombies PaleyFest 71st Emmy Awards stop motion scary movies Mudbound TV comic book movies Tarantino cars TCA Winter 2020 Mary Tyler Moore 93rd Oscars cops transformers Television Academy new york jamie lee curtis game show VICE venice CW Seed Disney streaming service new zealand Family Legendary Superheroes Neflix Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Mary Poppins Returns NYCC Sundance Now boxoffice The Academy A24 finale crossover Cannes 72 Emmy Awards sequel free movies Rock live action Dark Horse Comics richard e. Grant name the review Acorn TV stoner 73rd Emmy Awards Valentine's Day royal family heist movie vampires Biopics South by Southwest Film Festival nfl Pacific Islander Premiere Dates james bond 2016 book adaptation Endgame australia comic book movie Holiday Cartoon Network dramedy ratings rt archives Fargo SDCC screenings laika FX Syfy classics 94th Oscars medical drama hidden camera Amazon Prime Year in Review DC streaming service prank SXSW mob hispanic golden globe awards high school Columbia Pictures Stephen King ESPN spanish language Pride Month USA Network renewed TV shows 2021 best ID IFC TCA Awards cults ABC superhero anthology MGM Lifetime Christmas movies ghosts psycho sitcom Turner Classic Movies critics kaiju Adult Swim breaking bad IMDb TV Tokyo Olympics unscripted cartoon marvel comics HFPA Sneak Peek dragons Grammys Logo razzies American Society of Cinematographers Tomatazos 24 frames cooking Kids & Family TNT foreign Tags: Comedy crime thriller Interview black critic resources Vudu parents Creative Arts Emmys WarnerMedia Lucasfilm young adult Music rt labs critics edition Instagram Live YouTube rotten movies we love Amazon talk show boxing YouTube Red new star wars movies streaming movies Lifetime AMC Plus SXSW 2022 FOX Nominations hist olympics football TCA 2017 HBO Go Esquire Paramount Plus Rom-Com BBC The Walt Disney Company Starz halloween tv die hard Masterpiece Showtime revenge docuseries serial killer award winner trailers Sundance TV Quiz halloween Hulu crime documentary DC Comics Summer Sony Pictures joker movie Teen 21st Century Fox Film Festival comedies comic TCA Comic Book Video Games Marathons Disney Winter TV Spectrum Originals political drama Prime Video monster movies SundanceTV Red Carpet Fantasy cats doctor who dceu sag awards Toys summer preview Awards TCM sequels President LGBT kong Amazon Prime Video teaser anime MTV 79th Golden Globes Awards AMC Alien telelvision spy thriller ABC Signature Super Bowl comiccon all-time canceled TV shows FX on Hulu Television Critics Association dexter Apple National Geographic blockbuster leaderboard Trailer movies Thanksgiving zombie adenture cancelled cinemax kids 2020 HBO Ghostbusters rotten Marvel japan Western Paramount travel saw Superheroe Star Trek video Avengers Binge Guide Song of Ice and Fire Comedy ABC Family Comedy Central theme song ViacomCBS FXX aapi Heroines 2017 YA romance Wes Anderson facebook witnail Nickelodeon child's play BAFTA Extras TV renewals strong female leads live event Hollywood Foreign Press Association Apple TV Plus stand-up comedy a nightmare on elm street Star Wars godzilla TV One Fall TV OWN miniseries Hear Us Out films Netflix WGN dark NBA TV movies war PBS criterion versus biography Peacock action-comedy Spike Spring TV dreamworks Marvel Studios Black Mirror black comedy Pop TV based on movie satire 45 obituary The Walking Dead Discovery Channel japanese Warner Bros. Shudder summer TV Best Actor Holidays festivals Oscar canceled Disney Plus quibi archives science fiction TLC Pixar Travel Channel BBC One Reality suspense The Purge video on demand Pop Election YouTube Premium 20th Century Fox elevated horror christmas movies Best and Worst Universal summer TV preview Captain marvel Horror aliens TV Land Netflix Christmas movies adventure women blaxploitation spider-verse DirecTV biopic rom-coms Awards Tour fast and furious feel good golden globes TruTV streamig Musicals Paramount Network screen actors guild indiana jones diversity Trophy Talk Bravo Shondaland fresh slasher romantic comedy singing competition CBS All Access Film LGBTQ