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Seven super-powered children who fight evil... but what happens when it falls apart?

The Umbrella Academy may tread superhero territory - but first and foremost it's a series based on relatable human characters, says showrunner Steve Blackman. Gemma Dunn finds out more

The year is 1989. At the 12th hour of the first day of October, 43 women around the world suddenly find themselves nine months pregnant and immediately give birth.

Piquing the interest of an eccentric billionaire, seven of the babies are adopted. But this isn't your regular family portrait. Each harbouring extraordinary abilities, the children form a superhero gang, destined to fight evil.

An inexplicable phenomenon, maybe. But it's this turn of events that sets the scene for Netflix's latest original series, the highly anticipated Umbrella Academy.

Power-charged with action, the family drama - based on the Eisner Award-winning graphic novel series created and written by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Ba - will take in 10 episodes, each adapted by Fargo producer Steve Blackman.

The project first came to the Canadian-American around the time he was finishing up with sci-fi hit Altered Carbon.

"I really wanted to stay with Netflix," says Blackman, who went on to serve as a showrunner on the epic new show. "They talked to me about a couple of projects and this was one of them.

"I got really excited about it. I want to tell relatable, human stories. And with The Umbrella Academy, I wanted to do that away from any trope of superheroes.

"To me, these are very grounded characters, they're a family," he adds. "The fact that they have some abilities is, to me, secondary. It's a dysfunctional family show with a body count."

THE EARLY DAYS

Once adopted, the children soon come to realise they pose more of a scientific interest to entrepreneur Hargreeves (played by House Of Cards' Colm Feore).

Assigned numbers and later names by Grace, the robot they call mom, the super-dysfunctional superheroes become known as Number 1/Luther; Number 2/Diego; Number 3/Allison; Number 4/Klaus; Number 6/Ben; Number 7/Vanya. The fifth child is known as simply "Number 5''.

While numbers 1-6 spend their time training in order to form the academy, and their skills range from performing mind tricks to jumping through space and time, Number 7/Vanya finds herself excluded from the action.

"Hargreeves' goal was to create a special force of children that could one day save the world," explains Blackman. "And it worked for a while. They were very successful when they were 12, as a force against evil."

However, tragedy strikes when in their teens, one of the children finds themselves stuck in the future and another dies during a mission. Shrouded in sadness, The Umbrella Academy disbands - and the siblings split.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Fast forward 17 years, and with Hargreeves dead (and a question mark over whether it was due to natural causes), the estranged siblings reunite at their childhood home.

But can they put tensions aside and work as a family again? Because they need each other. And more importantly, the world needs them.

"One of my favourite scenes from the pilot is early on, when they're just sitting in a room together and no one's saying a word," Blackman says of their homecoming.

"It's just that relatable, awkward moment when you're estranged from a family member. I didn't want them to come together and say, 'okay, now we're a family, let's go fight bad guys'. That's not what this show is.

"The struggle for them is just to co-exist as a family member and be in the same room together - and, by the way, save the world at the same time."

"These children didn't get to have a childhood," adds Robert Sheehan, who plays Number 4, Klaus. "They got to be superheroes and be on the front of magazines and newspapers the world over, but it screwed them up in the head.

"So when you meet us all at the age we are now, we all have different manifestations of our dysfunction."

MEET THE 'FAMILY'

Number 1/Luther, played by Tom Hopper, has had superhuman strength since birth and has been living on the moon for several years.

Number 2/Diego (David Castaneda) is an after-dark vigilante and quite the dab hand at throwing knives and breaking the laws of physics.

"He has a chip on his shoulder that he can't be Number 1," admits Castaneda.

Number 3/Allison (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is a recently divorced movie star, who having lost custody of her daughter, has come to realise her superpower - to bend anyone to her way of thinking - isn't always what it's cut out to be.

Number 4/Klaus (Sheehan) can communicate with the afterlife - but only when he's sober, which is a rarity.

"He's this tortured character who tries to keep the party going 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Sheehan explains.

Number 5/Five, played by Aidan Gallagher, returns to the fold after 17 years in the body of his 13-year-old self, but with the mind of a 58-year-old man. He's terrified by what he saw in the future: a world in which humanity is wiped out.

Number 6/Ben (Justin Min) could unleash monsters from other dimensions when he was alive. Now Klaus is the "emissary for Ben on earth", Min explains. Not that his siblings know it.

Number 7/Vanya is portrayed by Ellen Page as the black sheep of the family. "Vanya has grown up in the household feeling very ostracised and left out," says Page.

Two other key characters to look out for are Hazel and Cha-Cha, played by Cameron Britton and Mary J Blige respectively.

BEHIND THE SCENES

From day one, it was a given that Way - the former frontman of My Chemical Romance - and Ba would be involved in the creative decisions.

And according to Way, the adaptation is true to what he dreamed up all those years ago - but it is not a carbon copy.

"For fans of the comic, there are things that are different. This is definitely Steve's vision," Way says.

"But he's been very respectful to the source material, especially in terms of what happens in the story.

"One of the cool things about the show is that the ideas are still very weird. But it's a bit more accessible in terms of the look and feel of things," he says.

The Umbrella Academy premieres on Netflix on Friday February 15

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