Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #1
Written by Gerard Way
Art by Gabriel Ba and Nick Filardi
Lettering by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
It’s been almost 10 years… but the Hargreeves children are back. And even more impressively... the Umbrella Academy hasn’t missed a single step. Bringing together Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba’s signature cocktail of high-concept sci-fi, dysfunctional family dynamics, and the fallout of the sins of their father, Hotel Oblivion feels almost like traveling through time, with a return that will assuredly appeal to diehard fans of the first two arcs of the series.
Can you believe it’s really been nine years since the release of Umbrella Academy: Dallas? That’s the strength and the weakness of Hotel Oblivion, which throws exposition to the wind as we immediately reconnect with Spaceboy, the Kraken, Number Five, the Rumor, and the White Violin - Way establishes most of these characters in terms of temperament and their relationships with one another, but those who haven’t brushed up on the previous two arcs may need a quick trip to Wikipedia for a refresher on their powers and their history. But that said, you won’t get tired of watching this off-kilter family go through their paces - particularly watching Spaceboy and Kraken meeting their superpowered counterparts in Japan or watching Number Five putting the pedal to the metal as a pint-sized gun-for-hire.
But while Way isn’t waiting around for people to catch up, one of the hallmarks of Umbrella Academy has been that hidden history, those shadows of continuity that can’t help but snatch you up at the worst possible moment. That’s the mystery that really makes Hotel Oblivion sing, as we learn about Sir Reginald Hargreeve’s… unique methods of crime and punishment. The idea of what happens to supervillains has popped up in a number of different ways - the sort of revolving door of escape in the X-Men films, the question of due process and extrajudicial imprisonment in The Flash TV series, and Way’s unique twist is for sure the highlight of this book. In certain ways, I can’t help but think of Geoff Johns’ work on Doomsday Clock - you can’t help but feel like there’s some grave injustices being done behind the scenes, and it’s going to be righting those wrongs that sparks the fuse for this story.
Gabriel Ba, meanwhile, looks as dynamic as ever - there’s that rough, Mignola-esque angularity to his characters that just exudes ambiguity and mystery, even when so many of Ba’s shots are actually pretty distant. In keeping with the rest of Way’s subversion of classic superhero tropes, it actually makes plenty of sense for Ba to eschew big splash pages or flash layouts - Ba instead is able to give us big, impactful moments even in a six- or seven-panel page, particularly with Number Five’s James Bond-ian action sequences. The Hotel Oblivion itself, meanwhile, is a masterful way for Ba to remind readers of what an artist he is, evoking that Hotel California spookiness and making it a real place full of shadows, faceless bellhops, and mystery residents living in fear.
Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion is a triumphant return for Way and Ba, but it is certainly not a destination for new readers or the faint of heart - after nearly a decade of radio silence, even longtime fans of the series might do well to have a refresher read to get them in the right headspace to appreciate this superpowered family’s status quo. Given the menu motif of this issue, this debut feels more like table-setting than the main course - granted, when the venue has an atmosphere as stylish as Hotel Oblivion, once you check in, you may never want to leave.
Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #1 is scheduled to be released October 3.