Superhero teams are not born, but made. Some eccentric mastermind (Nick Fury for the Avengers, Professor X for the X-Men) assembles a ragtag group of superheroes, who learn to work together to fight a powerful evil they never could have defeated separately.
Two new series take that comic book trope out for a spin. In their own ways, Netflix’s “The Umbrella Academy” and DC Universe’s “Doom Patrol,” both of which premiered last week, are faithful to the concept while finding ways to mess with it, or subvert it entirely.
Based on the Dark Horse Comics series by Gerald Way (better known as the frontman for the band My Chemical Romance), “The Umbrella Academy” hooks the viewer with an intriguing opening scene. On the same day in 1989, 43 women around the world gave birth, even though they hadn’t been pregnant when they woke up that morning.
An eccentric billionaire (Colm Feore) bought as many of the infants as he could (seven, in the end), convinced that they were special. As kids, the adopted siblings became a crime-fighting team, using their superpowers — teleportation, strength, mind control — to defeat bad guys.
“Umbrella Academy” focuses on the six kids (one apparently died) as bitter, estranged adults who haven’t seen each other in years. Brought back together by the death of their tyrannical adoptive father, the siblings reopen emotional wounds, and also discover they kind of missed each other. Oh, also, the world is going to end in eight days and they have to figure out how to prevent it.
At times, “Umbrella Academy” plays like “Wes Anderson’s X-Men,” imitating Anderson’s affinity for offbeat characters and artfully symmetrical shots. In one scene, we see each of the siblings dancing alone in their rooms in a cutaway shot that looks like the boat from “The Life Aquatic.” And the entire premise of the show, about estranged siblings reckoning with the legacy of a flawed patriarch, feels like a superpowered version of “The Royal Tenenbaums.”
“Umbrella” feels a little too self-consciously quirky sometimes, like a bloody fight scene scored to They Might Be Giant’s "Istanbul (not Constantinople)." But unlike a lot of Netflix’s Marvel superhero series, “Umbrella Academy” is well-paced and offers enough mysteries to keep us hooked. Also, there’s a talking chimp butler named Pogo.
DC Universe takes a somewhat more conventional route with “Doom Patrol.” DC Universe is the comic book company's new streaming site, and at $7.99 a month is well worth it for comic book fans, offering a mix of new series like “Doom Patrol” and classic ones (like the 1990s Batman animated series), as well as movies set in the DC universe.
In “Doom Patrol,” an eccentric scientist named Niles Caulder (Timothy Dalton) has gathered together several misfits who have been rejected by society for their conditions. They include a former race car driver (Brendan Fraser) who is now more machine than man after a horrible car wreck, a test pilot (Matt Bomer) disfigured and apparently now nuclear-powered after a crash and a former movie star (April Bowlby) with a strange disease that causes her to melt into putty when under duress.
Caulder initially has no plans to turn these misfits into a fighting force, he's just hiding them away from society. They discover on their own that they can use their powers to fight evil when threatened by a mysterious villain (Alan Tudyk) who also narrates the series in an arch, self-aware way. (“Critics. What do they know? They’ll probably hate this show.”)
I didn’t, actually. While not as visually clever as “Umbrella Academy,” “Doom Patrol” is more emotionally engaging, thanks to a strong cast and writing that prioritizes characters over plot. Fraser and Bomer (although their faces are only seen in flashbacks) are really good as former alpha males, now broken by fate, and Dalton makes for an appealing but enigmatic father figure.
Also on streaming: The saga of Lorena and John Wayne Bobbitt was prime fodder for tabloid newspapers and late-night comedy TV during the early 1990s. The new Amazon Prime docu-series “Lorena,” which premiered last week, revisits the notorious incident to find out what really happened minus the sensationalism.
Acorn TV premieres the new Dutch thriller series “The Oldenheim Twelve” Monday, Feb. 18. The show has an irresistible premise. One by one, the residents of a picturesque Dutch village disappear without a trace, and a detective brought from outside to investigate isn’t sure if the cause is criminal or supernatural.