‘The Umbrella Academy’ vs. ‘Doom Patrol:’ Misfits to Saviors

The Umbrella Academy and Doom Patrol –sharing crowd-pleasing 80s soundtracks and a set of dysfunctional heroes – both aim to subvert the superhero genre by eschewing the tropes inherently tied to it. However, their approaches are vastly disparate, leading to one ultimate victor.

'Doom Patrol' Cast
‘Doom Patrol’ Cast | Getty Images

The Umbrella Academy – combining familial conflict with an imminent apocalypse – explores mature themes in a darkly comic fashion, yet always adheres to its TV-14 rating. On the other hand, Doom Patrol, opening with some good ole graphic nudity and perverse language, is not suitable for children.

Before getting into the triumphs and tribulations tied to each set of misfits, a little bit of background information may come in handy.

‘The Umbrella Academy’ story

The Umbrella Academy opens with 43 children all born on the same day to mothers spanning the globe; however, none of these mothers were pregnant when the day first began, and each child is born with an extraordinary ability.

A billionaire industrialist adopts seven – offering each mother a sizable payout – and trains them to become his so-called “Umbrella Academy,” destined to protect, serve, and save humankind (should the need ever present itself).

The seven siblings disband gradually but are reunited when their father dies. The plot starts here, and – building on suppressed childhood traumas and broken bonds – demands that the seven put their problems aside to prevent an apocalypse.

However, the problems are not “put-aside;” rather, they are the focal point. The Umbrella Academy exploits the “save-the-world” tale as an overlay, serving as the basis for its intimate character explorations.

‘Doom Patrol’ story

Doom Patrol, a work that inspired Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy, retains a similar plot foundation. Four unrelated misfits are brought together by “The Chief” (AKA Dr. Niles Caulder) after bizarre life incidents leave them unfit to blend in with society.

Caulder houses the four misfits in his lavish mansion, similar to the one seen in The Umbrella Academy. When supervillain Mr. Nobody kidnaps Caulder, the four set off on a savior’s journey.

What both ‘The Umbrella Academy’ and ‘Doom Patrol’ do right

Both The Umbrella Academy and Doom Patrol remain steadfastly committed to their respective “vibes.” Both are peculiar, and never fail to remind you of that; however, Doom Patrol often seems a bit too absorbed with its self-righteous sense of accomplishment, but more on that soon.

Doom Patrol and The Umbrella Academy also feature rather well-established actors in lead roles, so there’s no failure on either party there. From Mary J. Blige to Ellen Page and Tom Hopper, The Umbrella Academy’s star-studded ensemble is a gift.

As for Doom Patrol, Matt Bomer, Brendan Fraser, and Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Serenity) lead the show. However, the characters they play in Doom Patrol, despite the show’s determined efforts to avoid cliches, feel derivative.

Why ‘The Umbrella Academy’ beats ‘Doom Patrol’

Unfortunately for Doom Patrol, its strict adherence to the comic books is the catalyst for its downfall. The dialogue often seems unnatural and Mr. Nobody’s narration works to serve the show’s own self-righteous tendencies, as opposed to the audience’s need for self-deprecating humor.

On the other hand, The Umbrella Academy, albeit inspired by Doom Patrol, never seems quite so pleased with itself. While The Umbrella Academy feels like a show about family wrapped up in a superhero saga, Doom Patrol feels like a superhero cliche wrapped up in a genre-defying facade.

In Doom Patrol, The Chief, spurring wisdom as he traverses his mansion on a wheelchair, appears to be nothing more than a Professor X rip-off. Larry Trainor is yet another antihero fueled by a past he regrets. And as for Rita, her grotesque power is – as stereotypes would have it – a curse to suit her “deadliest sin:” vanity. The characters all feel two-dimensional and uninspired.

In The Umbrella Academy, our heroes possess more than one identifying character quality. They are not strong or weak; regretful or motivated; they are strong and weak; regretful and motivated.

In The Umbrella Academy, the characters are people before they are heroes; thus, it strays from trite tendencies. On the contrary, Doom Patrol, trying so hard with its nudity, language, and situational commentary, merely puts a translucent screen between itself and the cliches it works to mock.