Supermen Explain Things To Me

Alex Mell-Taylor
8 min readFeb 20, 2019

A Review of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy is about a dysfunctional family, but more than that, it’s a very direct critique of the superhero genre in general. The central question of the show: “What would happen if you actually raised superpowered children to fight crime?” is answered with a resounding “Well, they would be fucked up.” This rare and refreshing critique, however, is firmly rooted in the pain of the series’ straight, male characters at the expense of the few female characters that have screen time. It’s a tradeoff we should be wary of, and is an example of a show being right in one area and so thoroughly wrong in another.

The conceit of the series is that in 1989, 47 women around the world spontaneously conceived and gave birth on the same day. An eccentric rich billionaire swooped up seven of these miracle children, who later turned out to have powers, and then raised them to be super-powered and super famous crime fighters of The Umbrella Academy (they have a line of lunchboxes).

Think Professor X. If Professor X also owned the merchandising rights for the X-Men.

Unlike in most of comicbookdom, however, The Umbrella Academy portrays this eccentric billionaire realistically, which is to say he’s portrayed as an asshole whose abusive childrearing led to his estrangement from all of his children. Children, he viewed solely as things and didn’t bother to name. Instead, he called them by numbers 1 through 7 (I wonder who the favorite was?).

Flash forward years later, their billionaire father is dead. The superpowered family has begrudgingly reunited for the funeral. No one likes each other because they have all spent years trying to flee the source of their trauma, and that includes each other.

They are also trying to stop the apocalypse, but mainly its about trauma.

As a character study, I am definitely in favor of what this series is intellectually trying to do. The X-Men (and its many derivatives) would have way more baggage than is often portrayed in the OG comic books and it’s refreshing to see a series that so pointedly calls that emotional revisionism to task. This examination, though, rarely extends to the show’s female characters. They are treated as objects the male characters…

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