Trading Up: Umbrella Academy: Dallas

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Papier-mâché masked psychopaths who love thin-mints. Brilliant, right?

There are creative teams that just... sing, if you know what I mean. There is a rhythm there, conducted much like a much-practiced Taiko drummer. The Atomic Robo team. Morrison and Quitely. Ellis, Cassaday, and Martin. The teams that make comics what they are. They make you want more—they are comics. In all veracity, I believe that Gerard Way, Gabriel Bá, Dave Stewart, and Nate Piekos have galvanized comics with their end product, Umbrella Academy. And, deservedly, belong among this particular echelon.

I won’t go into how I was first hung up on the fact that a famous singer my 15-year-old sister-in-law listened to was to write a comic book—a comic book for the same publishing house that gave us the Millers and Mignolas. I was skeptical, but that ended after issue #2. And we won’t be talking about Umbrella Academy:  Apocalypse Suite—no, we’ll be talking about Umbrella Academy: Dallas.

 The collected trade of Dallas just hit the shelves a few weeks ago, and the story as a whole deserves all the recognition it can get.

On a high level, the art is superb and fits the storytelling’s mood like a glove; the coloring is exceptional —well, Stewart is a master of all things CMYK— and the lettering is spot-on with its idiosyncratic format. After I read an issue of Umbrella Academy—and this is only one of maybe three comics that has this type of effect on me—I smile. Because it’s charming, light-hearted, and it sings perfectly.

(Being a Texas native, when I think of Dallas, I can’t help but think of uppity socialites who own their first sportsy-sport car when they’re 15. Horrible place, really. But when the outside world thinks of Dallas, they either think of the eponymous soap opera or, you guessed it, the assassination of John F.  Kennedy. And, really, that’s the epicenter of the story at hand.)

Way has constructed a story in which some time has passed since the Umbrella Academy saved the world from the Apocalypse Suite, led by Vanya Hargreeves (a.k.a., The White Violin; a.k.a., 00.07), and the passage of time has changed things a bit. Spaceboy is fat and loves trashy TV, and Séance is a pampered diva. Pogo and The Horror are still as dead as ever, The White Violin is a bit of an invalid, and is hated by her victim, The Rumor.

Apropos, what ensues is a series of small, oddly crafted side-stories and characters that lend themselves to the ultimate goal of the assassination of JFK. It then comes as no surprise, that there are so many oddities in this story, whether it is Viet Cong vampires, or time-traveling assassins led by a shubunkin, that you’re not exactly sure where the story is going until issue #3.

It’s a fun story, and sure, JFK’s head explodes at then end to deter nuclear Armageddon—and it’s a clever story, chalked full of witty dialogue and superb art...but it’s the side-characters that make the story, compressed in their 22 pages of panels. Besides the aforementioned, we’re treated to what can only be a horseback-ridin’, Kinky Friedman-inspired God. So, it’s treats like this that make the book—and the entire Umbrella team, right down to the letterer, Piekos, has fun with it.

On the flip side, if I were to have one complain, it’d be that there seems to be a slight forcing of too many directions, too many cliffhangers. I know Perseus is a great character--funny, drunk with power, but his scenes seemed a bit unnecessary—all they really do is set up what is undoubtedly his reappearance in the forthcoming storylines.

But that’s it, really. The trade is handsome, clean, and looks sharp on my bookshelf. And I hold to the fact that this is one of the very best series out there. Engaging, quirky characters; lovely art. Fun. Just really, really fun. And it makes me smile.

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