How the Queer Representation in “The Umbrella Academy” Rained on My Parade

Poor LGBTQ representation is sometimes worse than none at all.

A story where super-powered siblings unite to stop an apocalyptic violin concert was never going to be straight forward. When you add talking monkeys and time travel assassins into the mix, it becomes clear that The Umbrella Academy takes great joy in confounding expectations.

However, I was still surprised to discover halfway through that one of the seven lead characters is queer, particularly because there were no LGBTQ heroes in Gerard Way’s original comic.

This article is drenched in Umbrella Academy spoilers from here on out.
 

Concerned their adaptation wouldn’t be diverse enough, the producers of the Netflix show decided to rewrite Klaus (played by Robert Sheehan) as queer. According to Sheehan, his character didn’t start out that way when production began, but “that sort of developed as we developed the character…it just felt kind of truthful.”

Together with showrunner Steve Blackman and the approval of Netflix, Sheehan felt this take on Klaus would be “more fulfilling,” but unfortunately, their execution leaves a lot to be desired.

For reasons way too complicated to get into here, Klaus accidentally travels back in time halfway through Season 1 and we later discover that during this visit, he fought in the Vietnam War. While on the front lines, Klaus falls in love with a soldier named Dave who is tragically shot down by enemy fighters. Upon his return to the present, Klaus is traumatized by his loss and tries to sober up so he can conjure Dave’s ghost before the world ends.
 

Although I’d love to shower praise on The Umbrella Academy for being inclusive, the way this show handles queerness actually plays into a number of harmful tropes that are more destructive than any mere apocalypse.

Death is a natural part of storytelling and by the end of Season 1, the show kills off a huge range of characters. Because of this, Klaus isn’t the only one who loses someone that he loves. In my opinion, Dave’s death is far more problematic because of the way it’s used to advance the story of his lover.

What little we see of Klaus and Dave together is beautifully portrayed, but only minutes pass before their relationship is cut short. Instead of making Dave a fully rounded character of his own, he exists on the show purely as a prop, providing Klaus with some extra depth and the motivation to seek sobriety. If you don’t believe me, count how many lines Dave speaks before his demise.

Barely a word is shared between these star-crossed lovers throughout the show’s first ten episodes and to rub it in further, the writers devote far more time to the somewhat incestuous relationship between Luther and Allison Hargreaves. It’s troubling that viewers are encouraged to root more for two siblings getting it on than a pair of consensual adult men, even if those siblings are technically not related in a biological sense.
 

The worst thing about all of this is that Klaus can actually communicate with the dead and yet the writers still refuse to let the pair speak following Dave’s death. The Umbrella Academy could have found a unique way to circumvent the Bury Your Gays trope, killing off a gay character while still allowing them to experience a happy ending of sorts, but it seems that this wasn’t meant to be.

Klaus and Dave deserve to be represented in ways that aren’t defined purely by suffering, and this becomes even more evident once you compare Umbrella to DC’s Doom Patrol.

Both are weird superhero shows that debuted on the same day and both feature queer leads who are suffering some kind of loss, but the way that these stories are told differs hugely. While Umbrella reveals Klaus’s sexuality rather abruptly and without much depth, Doom takes time to develop the struggles that Negative Man faces without letting them define him.

LGBTQ representation in superhero stories of any kind is still worth celebrating and in this regard, The Umbrella Academy shouldn’t be dismissed entirely—especially because the writers weren’t obligated by the source material to diversify their cast. However, poor representation is sometimes worse than none at all. It’s about time that shows like this learn to stop burying the gays, and that’s true whether the apocalypse wipes everyone out or not.

David is a British journalist who loves horror, superheroes and queer cinema, which is why he regularly pesters Xavier Dolan to direct an adaptation of Marvel Zombies.
@DavidOpie