For thorough coverage's sake, I phoned my teen sister and asked her opinion of Gerard Way. “I like him,” she replied. Journalism: accomplished.

The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #1 (of 6)

There's one really nice sequence in this comic, a new miniseries from creator/writer Gerard Way (his first extended comics work) and artist Gabriel Bá (of Casanova).

It's three pages long, and sees a bizarre superhero apparently living his childhood dream by standing proudly on the moon, where he has set up a home base. But he gets a call from Earth, and while we can't hear what's said, his reactions indicate troubling news.

Inside the base, the superhero insists into the telephone (yes, the telephone) that he can't leave his post, but his reactions reveal that the message is grave. Our viewpoint darts around his office while he takes the call, and we see old posters and framed newspaper scraps, telling the story (in titles and headlines) of how his childhood dreams got all dark, what with his awful adoptive father grafting his head onto a gorilla's body, and his superhero team/family breaking up. He sets the phone down, and a robot pal asks him if he needs his laser pistol. The superhero says yes, and admonishes the robot for calling him "Number One," the name his adoptive father gave him.

He then climbs into a glowing, faintly Wally Woodish spaceship interior, grasps levers with his gorilla feet, and blasts off as the robot waves and says "Godspeed, Spaceboy, sir." Off in the distance we see the ruins of the Eiffel Tower, which we know is actually a secret alien rocket, and escaped from Earth during an adventure the superhero had with his siblings/team back when they were kids. The implication is that his life on the Moon is filled with anxiety, even though he's done what he's wanted to do with himself. And he still works overtime to fit his surrounding life into what he'd like his mood to be.

Very simple show-don't-tell storytelling, but it conveys an awful lot of character motivation and emotion in 14 panels, while neatly playing off the prior 15 pages of flashbacks, which make up most of this debut issue. Bá's art, crisply colored by the reliable Dave Stewart, easily balances muscular superhero exaggeration, jutting eccentricity, and shining science items, while saving some insecurity for when it's needed. It's the best part of this issue, which means the whole doesn't rise to a very high level, but it makes you want to believe that such sequences will eventually become elegant segues and passages, rather than the highlights.

The rest of the issue is ok enough. As I mentioned, it tells the story of the literal birth of a child superhero team, seven infants plucked by the sinister Sir Reginald Hargreeves out of a larger group of mystery babies, all of which were born out of the blue at the very same moment (accompanied by a half-arch, half-awkward opening narration on history and coincidence reminiscent to me of the film Magnolia). Most of them developed amazing powers, and their collective tenth birthday saw their first save-the-world superhero mission, although one of them had already vanished, and another hadn't developed anything beyond an above-average talent for the violin, much to the disgust of Hargreeves. We later discover that stranger things have happened since they grew up, with the 'untalented' one having written a tell-all book that's maybe gotten her the team-up attention of Evil.

If you're like me, you've probably already picked up whiffs of Planetary, Doom Patrol, The Incredibles, and probably other visible superhero efforts. To his credit, Way shows some aptitude for blending these influences into a modestly compelling whole, and he mostly avoids the common novice comics writer's trap of replicating images through words - this isn't an overwhelmingly visual book, but Way demonstrates an instinct for when to hold back a little and let the artist do some 'writing.' His sense of whimsy comes off as a little strained -- I could go for never seeing another zombie gag in a comic again -- and some of his more stylized text remains as stilted as it was in the various previews (here's two).

But none of Way's problems are atypical to writers new to the medium; while this issue certainly feels like a beginning in more ways than one, it shows good qualities and promise. The only really profound error comes after the story, where we're shown a bonus page from the Encyclopedia Umbrellica, which serves no purpose other than to spell out jokes and references -- even character motivations! -- as featured in the comic itself. It's wholly unnecessary, and frankly a little condescending, although I get the feeling that Way only intended for it to make his universe seem richer, and erred in replicating stuff that spoke nicely enough for itself in comics form. At least the comic remained free of such troubles.