Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Book Reviews - The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite and The Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba

The Umbrella Academy
Story by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Ba
Volume 01 Apocalypse Suite
Cover Art by James Jean
Trade Paperback
192 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse; 1st edition
Publication Date: June 24, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-1593079789


     The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite by Gerard Way (lead vocalist of My Chemical Romance) is a weirdly beautiful concept and story. A group of seven gifted orphans have been collected after their birth by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a.k.a. “The Monocle” to save the world from evil threats. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

     Spaceboy has enhanced physical strength and a human head grafted onto the body of a Martian gorilla; The Kraken, a Batman-like superhero can hold his breath indefinitely and is an expert knife thrower; The Rumor can alter reality by lying; The Séance can levitate, talk to the dead, and use telekinesis but only when barefoot; Number Five (The Boy), is considered to be “The perfect assassin” since he has the DNA of the best killers in history, he can time travel too; The Horror, possesses monsters from another dimension under his skin and is dead; and The White Violin who shows no visible powers but is believed to be the most powerful of all the members of the Umbrella Academy, she’s capable of releasing destructive waves of energy when she plays her violin.

     Together the seven adopted siblings of the Umbrella Academy defend Paris against the Zombie Robot attack of Gustave Eiffel, save the world from “The Conductor” of “The Orchestra Verdammten”, defeat Dr. Terminal’s Terminauts, stop the final apocalypse, and fight (like siblings do) each other. Like I said, weirdly beautiful…

     One note about the characters and their abilities; creatively speaking the names and abilities of most of the superheroes in the Umbrella Academy are mostly unique. We’ve all seen super strong and time travelling superheroes in the comics before, but this cast of characters is so flawed in so many ways that they go around the bend from weird and slingshot back to normal again. Gerard Way has an active and seriously warped and wonderful imagination and I hope he continues to create graphic novel stories for a long time to come.

5 out of 5 stars

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas
Story by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Ba
Volume 02 Dallas
Cover Art by Tony Ong
Trade Paperback
192 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics; First Edition
Publication Date: September 16, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-1595823458


     The Umbrella Academy: Dallas is a follow-up to Apocalypse Suite and is every bit as good as the introductory story. The compelling evil-doers in Dallas are Hazel and Cha-Cha two psychotic, time-travelling serial killers in oversized cartoon masks who capture The Séance and kill him in an attempt to convince Number Five to return to 1963 to finish The Kennedy Assassination. The young and old Number Five (paradox be damned) meet in the Dallas Book Depository where everything ends (although convoluted) as it should.

     Plot devices include Viet Cong Vampires, a time machine disguised as an ambulance, death and resurrection, a quick thinking waitress, dismemberment, and God as the Marlboro Man. Oh, and the world ends in nuclear detonation… But that’s another story.

   As I mentioned, the Umbrella Academy is a strange and beautiful graphic novel so entertaining you’ll beg for more.

5 out of 5 stars

     File with: Graphic novels, unique powers and characters, My Chemical Romance, Grant Morrison, Doom Patrol, Pat McEwon, Zombieworld: Champion of the Worm, Edvin Biukovic, Grendel Tales, superheroes, aliens, science fiction, the apocalypse, time travel, and comics.

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

The Umbrella Academy Wiki Site

 The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite Wiki Site

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas Wiki Site

The Umbrella Academy Fan Site

The Umbrella Academy Motion Comic


Book Review - We are all completely beside ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We are all completely beside ourselves
Karen Joy Fowler
Trade Paperback
Publisher: A Marian Wood Book/Putnam
Publication Date: May 30, 2013
ISBN-13: 978-0399162091
320 pages
Uncorrected Proof - Advance Reader’s Copy


     Karen Joy Fowler writes some of the oddest fiction I’ve ever read. And when I say odd I mean brilliant in a slanted, quirky way. When she writes a nostalgic scene you will think of your childhood home, your grandparents, and those you loved, laughed, and played with when you were growing up. When she wants you to laugh at yourself or teases your sensibilities you will find the humor hidden in all the little crevices of humanity. When she holds up the mirror of sentiment and emotion you will see yourself in her story.

     We are all completely beside ourselves is a story of love, family, devotion, separation, and the dichotomy of life and the biased memories we make in our own minds concerning our pasts. But more than that it’s a story of social interaction and how we act, react, and interact through emotionally stressful and confusing times.

     One undeserved criticism Fowler sometimes receives is that her characters are unfinished, furtive, and difficult to connect to. Many of her characters are mysteriously, and I think, intentionally, incomplete and here’s why I think it’s the perfect approach to creating a superior character, especially in the emotionally-driven narratives Fowler creates. Humans are enigmatic and unknown even to themselves sometimes. We are flawed, we are duplicitous, and we are opinionated and often change our attitudes. We occasionally don’t know our own minds or the real reasons we say or act the way we do. We are hurtful yet full of kindness. We are truthful but lie to preserve our own slanted images of ourselves and we confuse emotions with obsessions. Karen Joy Fowler’s characters then, mirror the gaps and holes in us all. In essence she writes enormously realistic characters that remind us of our own strengths, failings, assets, and ambiguities. Simply put, she writes convincing characters as compassionate, flawed, emotional human beings.

     This is the second novel by Karen Joy Fowler I’ve reviewed. I gave the first, Sarah Canary, a high overall review rating for originality, style, and content. We are all completely beside ourselves is no less creative than Sarah Canary and is, in my opinion, a superior read well worth the time.

     File with: mysteries, animal rights, emotionally-driven narratives, the human condition, love, loneliness, and social interaction.

4 ½ out of 5 Stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

My Review of Sarah Canary

Official Author Site

Author Wikipedia Site

Author Page Internet Speculative Fiction Database