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What If The Umbrella Academy Actually Happened?

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Michael Wynands
Every childhood presents its own unique challenges, but the Netflix original series “The Umbrella Academy” makes us think that (all things considered) we had it pretty good. Based on the comics written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, this series follows a group of adoptive siblings who, in their youth, fought crime together as “The Umbrella Academy”, only to drift apart, each carrying some pretty heavy baggage from their unconventional upbringing. Considering the unique nature of their birth, we can’t help but wonder how the basic setup of “The Umbrella Academy” would play out if it happened in the real world.
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What if the Umbrella Academy Actually Happened?

Every childhood presents its own unique challenges, but the Netflix original series “The Umbrella Academy” makes us think that (all things considered) we had it pretty good. Based on the comics written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá, this series follows a group of adoptive siblings who, in their youth, fought crime together as “The Umbrella Academy”, only to drift apart, each carrying some pretty heavy baggage from their unconventional upbringing. Considering the unique nature of their birth, we can’t help but wonder how the basic setup of “The Umbrella Academy” would play out if it happened in the real world.

The series involves a lot of twists and turns, but don’t worry, this little “What If” exercise will be spoiler free.

Here’s how the story goes: On October 1st, 1989, 43 women suddenly and mysteriously give birth to children despite the fact that none of them were pregnant. A rich, eccentric billionaire adopts seven of these special children -most of whom show signs of superhuman ability- and turns them into a team of crime fighters.

So let’s go ahead and take the action to the present day. If immaculate conception were to spontaneously and simultaneously occur in 43 different women around the world, it would be the biggest news story, well… ever. It would defy all current knowledge of the human body, reproduction, and science in general. The media firestorm would be unprecedented in scale and intensity as the world attempts to wrap its collective mind around this miraculous event.

In the absence of a readily available scientific explanation, people would be forced to start thinking outside the box. Alien involvement would almost immediately come up. Others would point to it as proof of the existence of magic and/or other supernatural forces. The Reddit internet sleuthing community would likely develop, test and debunk countless theories. Everyone would have an opinion, but nobody would have an answer.

Among the loudest and most insistent voices to offer an explanation would likely be various religions, both the major ones and the more fringe new religious movements. It would be the world’s most high profile and incontestable miracle of the modern age; that’s the sort of thing that religious faith is built upon, and every major player would want a piece, claiming the miracle as their own.

Of course, amidst all this debate, one major question would loom large: what of the children themselves? We imagine that many of the mothers would want to keep the child, unexpected though they might have been. For others, adoption would seem inevitable. However the mothers choose to proceed, these children would almost immediately see their lives complicated by the involvement of government agencies in their respective countries of birth.

It would vary from nation to nation, but depending on where they’re born, it’s not unfathomable that certain governments would take possession of the children for themselves, especially if the powers manifest early on. Disappointing though it might be to accept, between government involvement and social services, as well as the extreme level of media coverage and scrutiny, the formation of an “Umbrella Academy” would be very unlikely, if not downright impossible.

Then again, this is a brave new world that we’d be living in. The events that kick off the series are, in their own right, something we would have previously also deemed “impossible”. So let’s entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, through extreme influence using a whole lot of money, an eccentric billionaire did manage to adopt a number of these children -likely from the more corrupt and loosely regulated countries- with the goal of turning them into a team of superheroes. What then?

Well, for starters, these kids would likely become the biggest celebrities the world has ever seen. Think of the sort of idolatry experienced by teenage pop stars, young up-and-coming actors, social media stars and athletes. These kids would be like all of those things wrapped into one. They would be a new and unprecedented breed of celebrity - a “super-celebrity” for lack of a better term.

As if their lives wouldn’t already be complicated enough fighting crime, the children would experience the full weight of the social media age in which we’re living. They would, without a doubt, claim the most followers and subscribers across all social media platforms. There would be endorsements, commercials, sponsorships, maybe even crossovers into the entertainment industry. Their faces would likely be everywhere. While some would argue that the team would best function as a secret organization, the nature of their birth would likely make that impossible. Once the immaculately conceived superpowered cat is out of the bag, there’s no putting it back in - so to speak.

Of course, while the Umbrella Academy of the comic books and tv series seem to operate under the sole direction of their adoptive father, Reginald Hargreeves, the politics and bureaucracy of the real world would inevitably mean government oversight. The only way for such a team to function would be through an understanding with law enforcement and government agencies. Accountability would be a very real concern and would surely limit their activities.

We also need to ask ourselves what sort of effect would this have on the children? For the Hargreeves, their upbringing as The Umbrella Academy leaves them resentful, troubled and often bitter adults. In the real world, we can’t imagine it going much better. In fact, we suspect that they would be far more psychologically damaged. Crime fighting is inherently violent and high risk, making trauma part of the package. If you’re being exposed to it during your formative childhood or teen years, doubly so. Then there’s the child celebrity factor. Think of what the pressures of childhood fame and life in the spotlight have done to so many child stars over the years. Based on decades worth of real-world evidence, we can only assume that a number of these child heroes would crack under the pressure and grow up to be deeply troubled adults.

Switching gears a bit, we also have to consider what larger effect this would have on our world. After decades of reading and writing about them, citizens of the world would finally be faced with real-life superheroes. As many comics have explored, the rise of either superheroes or supervillains always seems to give birth to the other. Would the debut of earth’s first team of superheroes, in turn, inspire acts of super-villainy? It very well might. Heroes inspire people, and that can go both ways. Of course, following in the footsteps of our real world Umbrella Academy, other people would likely try their hand at the superhero game. For better or worse, we would officially be living in the age of masked superheroes and villains.

The thing is, our real world heroes wouldn't have comic book writers, convoluted plot twists and retcons to keep them safe. Most superheroes have special abilities, sure, but in any given universe, only a handful of them are actually impervious to harm or in possession of a healing factor. As more grounded superhero properties have chosen to explore, the life of a hero is often bloody and short. When we meet the Hargreeves, only one of them is thought dead, another lost in time. In the real world, sad though it is to imagine, the survival rate to adulthood for our young heroes would likely be far lower. So while a real-life Umbrella Academy would be incredibly exciting and inevitably turn the world on its head, our new heroes would also be faced with real-life consequences.

Perhaps most disappointing though, is that however it played out, even if the Umbrella Academy were real, the likelihood of the kids getting to grow up in the company of a super intelligent, eloquent, classy chimpanzee is slim to none. Bummer.
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