The Umbrella Academy: How Hotel Oblivion is different in the comics
The Umbrella Academy TV show has always been a very loose adaptation, but the core premises of the first two seasons — stopping Viktor from ending the world and trying to stop the JFK assassination — correlate directly to those of the comics’ first two volumes. But in season 3 of the Netflix drama, showrunner Steve Blackman orchestrates one of the biggest deviations from the the Umbrella Academy comics yet by giving us a completely new spin on the third volume’s titular Hotel Oblivion.
[Ed. note: The following contains spoilers for both The Umbrella Academy show and comic books.]
What is Hotel Oblivion in the comics?
The comics’ Hotel Oblivion isn’t a hotel at all. It’s a prison for the most infamous villains that the Umbrella Academy has ever defeated. It’s a twisted place where every sentence is a life sentence, a single cockroach serves as dinner, and prisoners are often driven mad. Since Hargreeves built Hotel Oblivion on a distant planet in a pocket dimension, it’s (nearly) impossible for the inmates to escape.
The only ways in and out of Oblivion are to fly through an unexplored portion of the universe called afterspace or to use a televator, a teleportation device Hargreeves invented that’s common throughout the world of the comics. However, in order to make it safely from the hotel to the televator, you have to avoid the notice of the Scientific Man, a clear riff on Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan, who watches over the prison from space. The Scientific Man appears to be one of Oblivion’s inmates as well, but has seemingly garnered special privileges in exchange for playing warden. And judging by the bones of massive creatures riddling the planet’s surface, if the Scientific Man catches you outside the hotel, he’ll do a lot more than kindly ask you to return to your room.
The comics also quickly drop in the fact that the hotel is not just a prison, but some sort of cosmic trap for a tentacled eldritch creature. This reveal is not explored beyond what we just summarized, so we genuinely have no more context to share on this topic other than to say it’s rad.
What happens in the Hotel Oblivion comics?
The primary plot of Umbrella Academy volume three kicks off with the escape of two prisoners: the Murder Magician, a clout-chasing hypnotist who once sawed a doppelgänger of Allison in half, and Obscura, a jewel thief who has a photographic memory and cameras embedded into his head.
The Murder Magician is desperate to escape Hotel Oblivion, but not just because he desires his own freedom (although we’re sure that doesn’t hurt). He’s determined to get his infant child far, far away from its literally monstrous mother, Clarissa. Obscura, on the other hand, just wants to get back to his life of crime. The duo manage to make it to the televator only to arrive on the other side at a secret lab operated by the Perseus Corporation. In the lab shootout that follows, Obscura is captured by Perseus employees, but an injured Murder Magician escapes with the baby.
Allison manages to track down the Murder Magician at his old lair, but so does the rage-filled Clarissa. The Murder Magician then reveals to Allison that Clarissa isn’t a true monster, but has only been cursed by a Magic 8 Ball. Rather than attack Clarissa, Allison tells her that she “heard a rumor” that the cursed toy doesn’t define who she is. Clarissa is thus transformed back into her human form, allowing the dysfunctional family to repair their rift. In another sweet moment, the Murder Magician apologizes to Allison for sawing a version of her in half. She graciously accepts his apology and takes the reformed villain to the hospital for life-saving treatment. That’s what we call emotional and physical healing!
Meanwhile, CEO John Perseus X forces the captured Obscura to show him the way to Oblivion, from which the eccentric businessman is set on freeing his father. In a flashback, we learn that John Perseus IX was a moralist villain who tried to use the powers of a mechanical Medusa head to impose his control over the city for the betterment of society. It seems as though ever since then, John Perseus X has been working toward a way to free his father.
When Perseus arrives at Hotel Oblivion, though, he discovers that his father has died by suicide. However, the Medusa head lives on and thirsts for revenge for being imprisoned. On his way back to his universe, a grieving Perseus is convinced by Medusa to free the other imprisoned villains, who then show their gratitude by wreaking havoc on the city. Perseus, displaying the opportunist attitude that likely aided his rise in the corporate world, grasps this golden opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps. Harnessing the power of the Medusa head, Perseus launches his own quest to become the city’s self-righteous “savior” (never mind the fact that he caused this problem to begin with).
The Umbrella Academy descends on the scene to actually save the city. They quickly realize that of all the newly freed villains, the biggest threat is their archnemesis Dr. Terminal. Defeated by the Academy when they were only children, Dr. Terminal has a disease that he’s only able to stave off through a machine he created that converts the matter he consumes into life-saving energy. After years of being locked up, Dr. Terminal turns his insatiable appetite on the entire city, consuming everything in sight.
Medusa is absolutely living for all this chaos and destruction, but finally seeing the magnitude of what he’s unleashed, Perseus realizes he doesn’t want to be aligned with her hatred and frees himself of the head. Luther then snatches it up and — for the first time in his life — comes up with a good plan. Knowing that the Medusa head has a nuclear reactor inside, Luther tosses it to Dr. Terminal, who consumes it and is presumably defeated. We say presumably because before we can see the aftermath of Dr. Terminal eating a nuclear reactor, the Sparrow Academy make their comics debut when they join in the fight and raise all sorts of questions about who they are and what’s going on.
So, the show version of Hotel Oblivion has nothing to do with the comics version?
Yes and no. The show’s Oblivion isn’t a prison, nor is it a trap for some sort of eldritch horror. It is, however, still one of Hargreeves’ pet projects. After discovering a portal to another dimension in 1918, Hargreeves built a hotel around it, called Hotel Obsidian. But the hotel is really just a front for the interdimensional Hotel Oblivion, which is actually not a hotel at all. As Hargreeves reveals, Hotel Oblivion is a massive failsafe machine that allows one to reset and rewrite reality. This mirrors the comics’ Hotel Oblivion residing in a pocket dimension where reality is constantly renewing itself — though we don’t see any sort of reality renovation happening in the comics.
There are echoes of the comics in smaller ways as well. The show’s Oblivion is still watched over by ruthless guardians — now four samurai rather than The Scientific Man. And instead of the cockroaches being dinner, they’re the brains and bodies powering these samurai, which is somehow even more stomach-churning. The ending of season 3, which reveals this version of Hargreeves is a titan of business, also calls to mind the corporate ties of Hotel Oblivion’s Perseus storylines. It’s possible this ending could even be setting up Perseus — or Perseus-inspired plots — to be introduced in season 4.
While this is all good and fun, though, the show’s Oblivion isn’t the one thing we hoped it would be: a prison filled with supervillains who then are set free. That’s all we wanted, really. Just an end of season melee where the Umbrellas and Sparrows have to face down a legion of eccentric villains in the streets. It’s an action-packed, larger-than-life storyline that begs to be put on screen and set to one of the show’s notorious needle drops. And yet we were sadly denied this spectacle.
Despite this, we will never give up hope on getting our supervillain showdown. With a new timeline each season comes new opportunities for a pocket dimension prison break. Or at least that’s what we’re going to tell ourselves.