On screen superheroes have traditionally displayed a specific version of masculinity. These heroes tend to be muscular, strong, intelligent, competent fighters, or some combination of these characteristics. They are heterosexual, tough, and do not show a wide range of emotions. Until recently, we haven’t had many characters outside of this limiting standard of masculine heroism to look up to. The men of The Umbrella Academy offer a subversive and more realistic depiction of masculinity. The Hargreeves brothers show that gender expression is not something that has to be binary or restrictive, but is instead a fluid spectrum.
Luther (Tom Hooper) is coded as the alpha-male of the group – his moniker is literally “Number One”. He’s buff and strong, and even has his DNA infused with that of a gorilla. At first glance, Luther is not much more than another attractive strong-boy who follows orders without question. But as the character is allowed to develop and grow, we see that there is so much more to Luther than that. He is a bona fide himbo who approaches love and relationships with an earnest eagerness. We see Luther dance home after sleeping with Sloane (Genesis Rodriguez) for the first time as though he is the star of a musical who is about to burst into song. As soon as he finds out about his brother Viktor’s (Elliot Page) transition, he wants to throw a party to make sure Viktor feels accepted and loved by his family. Luther shows that one can be big and strong while being soft and sweet.
Diego (David Castañeda) is like any hard-shelled candy – tough on the outside yet sweet on the inside. On the outside, Diego is your average lone-wolf vigilante type. He is an incredibly skilled fighter who does not trust easily and would rather punch first and ask questions later. However, he is also an incredibly caring and vulnerable person once you get to know him. He is visibly lovesick over Lila (Ritu Arya) yet insists that she must woo him before he lets her back into his life. When Lila drops Stanley (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) on his doorstep claiming he’s their son in Season 3, Diego is desperate to do whatever he can to be a better father than his own. Like Luther, Diego proves that softness and toughness can coexist.
Five (Aidan Gallagher) is literally a cranky old man in the body of a teen. Because of this, he does not act how one might expect a typical teen would. He is bitter and jaded and would rather drink a nice whiskey alone than go hang out with other teens. Five is a brutal fighter with likely the highest body count of The Umbrella Academy crew (not counting the timelines where Viktor accidentally caused an apocalypse). And yet, despite his cynicism he still chooses to help his family instead of escaping to another timeline or continuing to live out his days as an old man. He shows his love for them in his own unique way – whether that’s murdering the board of The Commission to get them safe passage back home or giving a drunken yet heartfelt speech at Luther and Sloane’s wedding.
Klaus (Robert Sheehan) is the definition of fluid. He refuses to be put in any box and is unapologetically himself 24/7. Klaus wears whatever he wants, does whatever he wants, and sleeps with whomever he wants. While he hasn’t officially come out as non-binary in the show, fans have coded him as such because he is portrayed as such a free spirit who couldn’t care less about the constraints of heteronormative society. Klaus starts a cult in the 1960s because the rest of society during that time feels so restrictive (and because he loves attention). Even the strictest binary we recognize as humans, life and death, does not affect Klaus because of his powers. He can talk with the dead, briefly channel their energy, and can resurrect himself repeatedly. From the beginning of the series, Klaus has challenged expectations of masculinity and who can be a superhero. His powers and propensity for chaos have been crucial to saving his family, and the world, more than once.
Not only does The Umbrella Academy encourage Klaus to be his true self, but the series also does the same for Viktor. In Season 3, the character played by Elliot Page decides to also embrace his true self – he cuts his hair and asks his family to call him Viktor, not Vanya. His transition is a non-issue for his siblings, and they welcome Viktor with open arms. While Viktor is powerful enough to almost end the world twice, he is also an incredibly compassionate and intuitive man. In Season 1, Viktor is the first one that Five trusts with the news of the apocalypse. In Season 2, he cares for Harlan as a boy because, despite his brief memory loss, he knows what it’s like to feel alone in the world. When Harlan finds him again in the present, now as an old man, Viktor does not hesitate to help him. Viktor’s true superpower is his heart, proving that it takes as much strength to be vulnerable as it does to save the world.
The Umbrella Academy shows a wide spectrum of masculinity outside the norm, and its characters prove that superheroes do not have to be macho to be taken seriously. The Hargreeves siblings show that men can be strong and compassionate, tough and earnest, and still save the world. Luther, Diego, and Five are well-rounded characters because we get to see a softer side to them. We get to see them as more than just the muscle of the team, and that is incredibly important. Klaus and Viktor normalize gender presentation as an ever-changing thing, and that wherever you fall on the spectrum at a given time is valid. They show us that being your true self makes you stronger than any superpowers could. Through its characters, The Umbrella Academy proves that there is strength in vulnerability and outwardly showing your emotions. The series subverts our expectations of what superhero masculinity looks like, because it lets the Hargreeves brothers be real men who experience real emotions.