The following article contains spoilers for The Umbrella Academy.
I’ve done four Comicons with Gerard Way and knew about Umbrella Academy since the comic’s inception. He has always been a pleasure to be around, and he believes in telling stories that matter. This is his tale of a fractured family. It turned out to be a really solid piece of, not just superhero entertainment, but of great storytelling as well. Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was one of the most streamed shows to date. By the time you got to the “I Think We’re Alone Now” scene, you were either completely bought in, or past checking out.
Unless you are a reader of the comics, you more than likely spent several episodes just getting acclimated to the odd world, unique powers structure, time travel presence, and the eclectic remains of the family that once existed. Somewhere in the midst of learning their names, powers, and team number, I realized that this was something that felt all too familiar. I was looking at a family that was splintered. The jaded remnants of what was once strong and unified were now bitter and resentful towards each other, ignoring each other in the areas that mattered most and quickly heading towards horrible destruction. They were a group of people that gathered together in force in their youth, but as they got older, they became more frustrated, disillusioned, and disenfranchised with what they once were. I’ve been involved in the Christian faith & community for twenty-five years. I’ve run children, youth, & collegiate ministries professionally. I now pastor a church. I’ve seen the full gamut. I’ve seen what it looks like to be young, passionate, and unified. I’ve seen what it looks like for the trauma of life and failure of leadership cause division. I’ve seen what it looks like for the people you once called family to become strangers, or perhaps even enemies. I’ve seen what it looks like to no longer know who your family is or where you belong. I’ve seen it in the lives of the people I’ve led, served, and ministered with. I’ve seen it in the lives of the people who led me. I still see it on a weekly basis within the people I have the honor to minister to now. And I saw it when I binged ten episodes of superhero drama about a broken family. Whether your family is biological, spiritual, or a domino mask-clad superhero team, our actions have repercussions on the future and stability of those we love and are bound to.
When we ignore, we fail our families
The extroverts, the bold, the confident, these are the people that naturally garner our attention. Those that are quieter, more timid, or brusque often become marginalized or forgotten. In the Umbrella academy Luther, Five, & Allison are the easy all-stars. The ones who have powers that stand out and are easily perceived and acknowledged while still remaining attractive. Diego throws knives, Ben has octopus tentacles, and Klaus talks to the dead. While these are useful, they definitely aren’t the lead singers of the band. They fall somewhere between bass player and drummer. Not to mention how Vanya was treated. As the kids grew up, the bitterness set in from being ignored. How many times did we hear Diego refer with disdain to the concept of Luther being “#1?” How often did we see Klaus simply try and sit things out because he didn’t matter anyway? I mean, the dude literally got kidnapped and no one noticed.
When we ignore the people God has placed in our lives, we are tearing the family apart. Make a conscious effort to move beyond just interacting with the people in your life that are easiest or more organic to connect with. Look for the people you interact with the least, and make a deliberate effort to know them. In simply knowing them you will lay the foundation to build a stronger family. Imagine how much stronger the Umbrella Academy family would have been if Hargreeves would have made the same effort to care for each of the kids equally. Imagine how much stronger they would have been if they had made an effort as a team not to let each other fall by the wayside. Let’s learn from their pain, and the pain we have seen in generations of faith. Seek out the ignored.
When we isolate, we fail our families
Being ignored and isolation may be similar concepts, but one requires apathy where the other requires conscious action. Isolation was a toxic element in the life of the Umbrella Academy. When we first meet Luther, he had been floating around on the moon for four years. As the story progresses, Luther learns that it apparently was for nothing. Simply to give him a purpose, but also to keep Hargreeves from having to deal with the aftermath of Luther’s accident (lowkey I hope the moon thing actually had a purpose and plays out in preventing the apocalypse). Hargreeves couldn’t deal with the sight of his own failures, so he pushed away his most faithful son.
Throughout Klaus’s training, he was continually isolated from his family and surrounded by the dead. Not only was this toxic to Klaus, but it also made it harder for his brothers and sisters to connect with him as they grew. The intentional isolation from Hargreeves caused more trauma to Klaus than seeing the dead. He forced him to experience the horrors of his powers alone, instead of giving him emotional support.Whether your family is biological, spiritual, or a domino mask-clad superhero team, our actions have repercussions on the future and stability of those we love and are bound to.
Vanya was the epitome of this, isolating a poor terrified child from her own family. Keeping her locked away from the world that she knew and from the only people who cared about her. Like Klaus, the trauma did damage to Vanya personally but also damaged her relationship with the family. Even at the end of the season, we see the lasting effects of her isolation. The trauma wasn’t just a buried event. It surfaced and showed how much pain and anguish was caused by Hargreeves’ actions.
The first negative statement in the Bible is, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.'” (Genesis 2:18). This was before the fall of man, before sin had tarnished everything. Even in an ideal situation, God said we don’t need to be alone. We see the effects of that as Five and Luther waited for their ambush on Cha-Cha and Hazel.
Five: I think it was all those years alone. Solitude can do funny things to the mind.
Luther: Yeah well you were gone for such a long time. I only spent four years on the moon, but that was long enough. It’s the being alone that breaks you.
Hargreeves isolated one child because of shame, one child for manipulation, and one child out of fear. When we come across people we are ashamed of or we feel guilt towards, we isolate them. Regardless of whether or not we should, too often we take that shame and guilt on ourselves. We can’t expect to function as a family if we push away people. No one is going to be healed by taking their support system from them. When your instinct is to push people away, stop. Realize how much grace is offered to you. Think of how hard it has been for you when you felt isolated, and, when you have the opportunity, draw people closer.
When we make them feel irredeemable, we fail our families
The most painful moments of the show for me were when Vanya was unleashed. After she had wounded Allison, she actually came home. If I had slit my sister’s throat, I don’t think I would have had the courage to actually show up. Look at the bravery she had. She walked into her home, she checked on her sister, she apologized. She was contrite. She was repentant. She literally went to the people she had wronged and asked for forgiveness. That’s effectively the best option in that situation. Sadly, though, I saw where this was going just by the look on Luther’s face. She walked up to her brother, into his open arms, and he betrayed her. He looked at her like a threat or weapon instead of his broken-hearted sister. He attacked her rather than welcoming her. This one moment could have prevented the apocalypse. All he had to do was welcome in his broken family, and let healing begin. So often our response is no different than Luther’s.
The standard Jesus sets is that if we have fallen, and we seek redemption that not only do we receive forgiveness, but we are made clean. That is the standard that Christ sets, but it’s not the standard upheld by his followers in many cases. Allison modeled this perfectly. She was the one wronged by Vanya, yet she was Vanya’s biggest advocate. She wanted Vanya to be set free from the chamber. At the theatre she wanted Vanya to be received as family. She knew what Vanya needed. She was right too. When Vanya saw her in the crowd a sweet smile came across Vanya’s face. I truly believe if her idiot brothers had not attacked, Vanya would have finished her piece, and Allison and Vanya could have hugged it out. Everyone could head back to the shambles of their home and start to rebuild their lives. Instead, they attacked her, stuff got real, and the world ended. We are commanded to restore those that wrong us gently, carry their burdens, not attack them. So often we are Luther when it comes to the fallen. We think because someone has made a mistake that they are beyond redemption, we push them further away from ever finding it. We should always be the people that the wounded can come home to.
As season one ended, even though the world was ending as well, I had hope. For the first time since the story started, they were all together as a family. They were all unified, and even with Vanya down, they didn’t leave her behind. My hope is that we can do that. Even in the midst of everything falling apart, despite all the mistakes we’ve made, pick up the pieces, and move forward together as a family.
This is an excerpt from the upcoming sixth edition of Faith and Fandom from Hector Miray. Look for the expanded version to be released summer 2019.