Why Luther’s Design Change Makes Him Less Lovable
Netflix’s Umbrella Academy implements a crucial change for Luther, removing an element from the comics and making him harder to sympathize with.
The Umbrella Academy removes a significant portion of Luther’s comic book design – and so it’s much harder to empathize with him. Under the supervision (according to this term very vaguely) of Sir Reginald Hargreeves, the younger siblings of Umbrella Academy have all suffered in one way or another. Vanya was drugged, Klaus became traumatized, Diego got angry, Five disappeared, and Ben died – not exactly a fantastic parenting record. Despite being the noble head of the Academy, even Luther could not escape the pattern of misery. Born with increased strength, Luther was seriously injured during a mission, forcing Reginald to revive him using a mysterious gorilla serum. Although his life was spared, Luther’s body took on the appearance of an ape.
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Naturally, this unwanted physical transformation became a source of pain for Luther. The hair-covered primate torso is a constant reminder of the price Luther paid as Sir Reginald’s only faithful child, and further alienates him from Hargreeves’ other children. Luther’s animal appearance also destroyed his confidence. When Luther and Allison got together in their teens, he had a certain swagger as Reginald’s “number one”. In the present, Luther has all but abandoned Allison – in part because he thinks no one can love this monkey-lined chest.
However, Netflix The Umbrella Academy makes a very significant change to Luther from the original comics by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá. In the source material, Luther’s head is grafted onto the body of a giant alien ape. Spaceboy has no choice but to show off topless, his physical alterations exposed to the world. Tom Hopper, on the other hand, simply dons an XXXL shirt and his deformities are covered. Most of the time, Netflix’s Luther looks like a very tall man, not the subject of some dangerous, experimental scientific procedure that has fundamentally rewritten his DNA. From a behind-the-scenes perspective, The Umbrella AcademyLuther’s change from Luther is completely understandable – having one of the lead actors constantly wearing the upper half of the gorilla seems expensive, impractical, and probably wouldn’t translate well into live-action.
But constantly hiding Luther’s physical differences with oversized pastel shirts also makes the character more difficult to complain about. In the comics, readers remember Luther’s crash with every panel he appears in. On television, it’s more like “out of sight, out of mind”. Since Luther looks relatively normal 95% of the time (as if he path too hard at the gym), it’s easy for the audience to lose sight of why they’re in pain. For other characters, the emotional scars are clear and constant; Klaus’ addiction is still apparent, and Ben’s spectral form is a sure sign that he’s still dead. But when Luther occasionally undresses, there’s always that moment of shock and realization where the viewer remembers his entire gorilla ordeal and remembers what Number One lost as a member of the Umbrella Academy.
Luther wearing shirts is not the reason why so many The Umbrella Academy viewers failed to empathize with the character… but that certainly didn’t help. After The Umbrella Academy Season 1, a sort of anti-Luther movement began, with fans believing that his controlling personality and toxic demeanor were instrumental in triggering the apocalypse by Vanya. Perhaps Luther’s enemies would have been more inclined to let Spaceboy a little slack if his physical aberrations were constantly in sight. After all, it’s the tragedy of his accident that (in part) causes the personality flaws that Luther’s critics point out so vividly.
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