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The Umbrella Academy show inspired Gerard Way to continue one character’s story

Showrunner Steve Blackman talks about collaboration and adaptation

number five holding a time-traveling briefcase Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

Season 2 of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy tosses the six Hargreeves siblings back to an unfamiliar time and place: Dallas, Texas in the 1960s. While that choice of setting might appear random to viewers of the show, fans of the graphic novel series will know that the second volume is subtitled “Dallas.”

But like with the first season, The Umbrella Academy isn’t a direct translation of Gerard Way’s comic. The setting — and the Kennedy assassination — is perhaps all the second season of the show shares with the second volume of the graphic novel.

Showrunner Steve Blackman tells Polygon that the idea of directly adapting the graphic novel was discarded early in production, but that working closely with writer Way has allowed him to play with the characters and concepts freely to adapt for television in a way that keeps the spirit of the book, if not the exact delivery.

justin h. min as ben Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix

“Early on, we realized there’s a graphic novel story and then there’s a television story and not all of it will be the same. But what’s lovely about Gerard [Way] is he’s very collaborative. I use the source material as a springboard and I want to be very respectful to the fans,” explained Blackman in a phone call ahead of season 2’s release. “I love finding moments and stories that reflect that graphic novel. But TV is a different beast and I have 10 hours to tell a story. And in a season of our show it’s 10 days, so I can’t do everything the graphic novel does. I have to sort of zero in on a particular piece or parts that I love.”

In season 2, Blackman prioritized the iconic visuals of the graphic novel over adapting it beat for beat. The design of the Commission leader AJ Carmichael, a fish in a tank propelling a human body, was specifically something he wanted to nail.

Because both the graphic novel and the show are coming out at the same time and parallel with one another, it’s not just the Netflix series pulling from the graphic novel. Blackman says that the collaboration with Way has become a two-way street.

“We’re at a point now, where sometimes things we put in the TV show inspire the graphic novel. Gerard’s like Oh, that’s really cool. I’m gonna work it into the story. The two universes are coming together, which is wonderful,” he explained.

He pointed specifically to the way that the TV show uses Ben, the sixth sibling who died before the events of both the graphic novel and the Netflix series.

“Gerard loved how we kept the Ben story going with him being Klaus’ nemesis,” said Blackman. “The irony being [Ben is the] most intuitive character, but he has the worst translator in Klaus. Gerard really loves that and I think he’s working that into the graphic novel.”

[Ed. note: The rest of this article contains huge spoilers for the end of the second season of The Umbrella Academy]

the hargreeves siblings watch a nuke go off
This happens in the first episode, don’t yell at me
Image: Netflix

When it comes to a potential third season, Blackman says that the big cliffhanger of the second season gestated over a year ago with Way. In the last moments of season two, the Hargreeves manage to get back to 2019 — only to realize that somewhere along the way, they altered the timeline, leaving them in a version of 2019 where their brother Ben is still alive, Reginald Hargreeves has never met them before, and the Umbrella Academy is called the Sparrow Academy. Blackman says it was a true moment of synergy, where ideas that the two of them had separately collided in an exciting way.

“It’s something I talked to Gerard about over a year ago. It’s the place I know he’s going to,” said Blackman. “He’s already started in volume three of the graphic novel, which is out. We talked about it going forward. I had a similar idea. When I found out he was doing the Sparrows, I got really excited. I knew I really wanted to go somewhere with it.”

The third volume of the graphic novel doesn’t have the same setup as the last moments of season 2, but a fourth volume — subtitled Sparrow Academy — is in the works. Both the show and the comic are potentially working toward the same idea — but without a confirmed date for the next installments of either, it’s very possible that the TV series may just beat the comics, a conundrum anyone who’s uttered “the anime is ahead of the manga” knows well. Except, of course, Way and Blackman seem content to bounce ideas off each other and see their respective properties not as adaptations but interpretations of one another.

The Umbrella Academy season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

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