REVIEW: “The Umbrella Academy – Hotel Oblivion”

81wb6js-mflIt’s been a decade since the second volume of Gerard Way’s wonderfully weird superhero series, The Umbrella Academy, hit stores and it’s been almost as long since the title of this third volume was announced. Since that initial announcement, there had been a lot of radio silence as Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá got busy with other projects. Thankfully, though, this third volume of The Umbrella Academy has come out and, in many ways, it feels like no time has passed. It’s very much the third installment in this ongoing series – and that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. (Mild spoilers follow)

Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance, Doom Patrol) and Gabriel Bá (Two Brothers, Casanova) have earned awards and accolades on their separate projects, and finally return to their breakout 2007 hit, for the latest chapter in the bizarre lives of their former teen superhero team.

Faced with an increasing number of lunatics with superpowers eager to fight his own wunderkind brood, Sir Reginald Hargreeves developed the ultimate solution …

Now, just a few years after Hargreeves’s death, his Umbrella Academy is scattered. Number Five is a hired gun, Kraken is stalking big game, Rumor is dealing with the wreckage of her marriage, an out-of-shape Spaceboy runs around the streets of Tokyo, Vanya continues her physical therapy after being shot in the head–and no one wants to even talk about what Séance is up to …

The award-winning and best-selling superhero series returns, stranger than ever–And their past is coming back to hunt them.

Viewers of the recent Netflix adaptation of The Umbrella Academy might be surprised to find just how strange the comics are. The TV show wasn’t exactly “normal”, but the comics have always been their own special blend of strange and this third volume of the series continues that strangeness perfectly from the very first page. The Umbrella Academy has always been more about the journey than the actual story being told and that remains true for Hotel Oblivion. At the center of this story lies a prison in a pocket dimension that holds all of the Umbrella Academy’s defeated villains. In the wake of the events of the previous volume, Dallas, The Umbrella Academy is fractured. They’ve all gone off in their own directions but the events within this volume will bring them together again, perhaps on an even stronger footing than ever before. The first several issues allow readers a chance to really explore what’s going on with each of the characters and those end up being the best parts of the series. The mystery introduced at the beginning is interesting, but these characters and their relationships with each other are the best parts of this series and that remains true with this series. Each character gets a new, interesting development in their overall arcs and I’m really excited to see how they continue to grow – especially Allison and Vanya.

Like the previous two volumes of The Umbrella Academy, it takes Hotel Oblivion the vast majority of its 7-issue run for the plot to really make itself known and for the various dangling threads to start to coalesce into a discernible whole. This can be frustrating for those who read the series month-to-month (or, as happened frequently in this run, month-to-gap-month-to-release month as the series featured a few delays. It can often feel like nothing is really happening and the series is just dragging its feet, but as the final two issues of the series unfold, you quickly realize that those slower-paced earlier issues were laying the foundation for the bombastic finale. Unfortunately, as is often the case with The Umbrella Academy, the ending does end up feeling a bit rushed, which robs it of a bit of its excitement. Additionally, for the first time, Hotel Oblivion ends on a pretty major cliffhanger which does rob the series of feeling like an entirely complete story. We are left with the promise that a new series will start early next year, but it does end up feeling like a bit of a let down if you’ve read each issue as they’ve come out between October 2018 and June 2019. That being said, it’s still an interesting story and the final issue beautifully sets up future stories to explore the world of The Umbrella Academy in even more new and exciting ways.

A highlight for this series has always been Gabriel Bá’s artwork and that remains the case here. He perfectly blends Way’s more surreal writing style with the level of groundedness that is needed to ensure readers can connect with all of this weirdness. Bá excels at portraying giant action sequences and creating really interesting locales. Every single page of this series is a joy to behold and Bá has clearly only gotten better as the years have gone on and he’s immersed himself even more in this world. Bá, also, isn’t afraid to show the violence that often accompanies this series – but he frequently keeps it from feeling too grotesque. It’s always highly stylized – as is his style in general – and it turns these potentially gross images into true beauty. Additionally, this series, in particular, has really given Bá the opportunity to play around with character design. With so many villains held prisoner within the Hotel Oblivion, each of them needed a design and most of them never appeared for more than a few panels, yet Bá manages to make each of them feel like wholly distinct characters, each with their own history and power set. His imagination is boundless and it runs freely throughout this series.

All in all, The Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion is a welcome return to this deeply creative and interesting world from Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. While it still contains many of the same problems that impacted the previous volumes, it’s a whole lot of fun. The sheer creativity and strangeness present within these pages makes this comic feel unlike anything else currently being published. The ending of the story does leave a bit to be desired, but it perfectly sets up the next series (which has been promised for release next year) so that can be forgiven. Gabriel Bá’s artwork continues to be the shining star of this series. Every single page of the series is a joy to behold and I’m just so happy to see the return of this truly remarkable series. Hopefully with the success of the Netflix adaptation, the comic will continue to see increased success. I love the new elements Way and Bá introduced in this volume and I’m really excited to see where they take it with the next one.

4 out of 5 wands

 

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