Often when the protagonist of a speculative narrative must struggle against an unfeeling world, that world is represented by a faceless conglomerate, a near-governmental corporation which seems to control facets of society wherever the character looks.
So in Stock and Trade, our latest genre fiction feature series, we’re looking at fictional corporations. Today, we’re featuring the Umbrella Corporation.
The Umbrella Corporation is the big bad guy of most of the Resident Evil games. When the zombies show up, it’s always Umbrella’s fault. They unleashed the virus on the world, and the protagonists are constantly faced with cleaning up the messes left behind, often having to slaughter countless zombies in the process.
Umbrella got its start in the 60s, when a couple of scientists discovered a strange flower in the depths of the wilderness, and found that it was the source for a strange degenerative disease.
This virus, which they dubbed "Progenitor," could give some people great strength and virility, but only those few who survived the initial poison, which turned exposed people into mindless violence machines.
When they returned from Africa, they founded Umbrella Pharmaceuticals Corporation to study the virus, and find a way to separate the poison from the booster, so that the booster could be sold to the public, and presumably, so that the poison could be produced as a bio-weapon
It was years before the researchers made progress with progenitor, and in the mean time, they needed other legitimate business ventures. From their work with progenitor, they learned enough about biology and chemistry to create very successful line of cosmetics and foods.
They eventually absorbed other companies, and spread into other interests, including a military division, eventually dropping the ‘pharmaceuticals’ part of their name. All the while, the research on Progenitor was continuing in the background, unknown to most of the company’s employees.
The Progenitor research was being conducted at their North American research facility outside of Raccoon City, based in an underground facility below an old and imposing mansion. When one of the founding researchers finally finds a way to weaponize the Progenitor virus - by combining it with the DNA of leeches, he releases it into the water supply for the research facility, and escapes with the data.
This mansion and the research complex below it become the setting for the first Resident Evil game, and members of Umbrella’s S.T.A.R.S. squad, a branch of their military operations based in Raccoon City, are sent to investigate.
Most of these details are lost on the various protagonists of the series, however, as they mostly just need to splatter a bunch of zombies, but a player who pays attention can see that there is some deeper mythology at work.
Umbrella Corporation can be seen as a cautionary tale against pride. The Corporation’s upper echelons are extremely proud of their Progenitor research, and themselves.
Many times throughout the storied history of the company, this leads to mistakes, and attacks. Backbiting, sabotage, and outright murder are rampant in the organization, and eventually it is their downfall, as the company eventually falls apart under arrests and legislation.
It also, however, becomes a tale of keeping your enemies closer, as once the corporation falls, the various descendants of Progenitor find their way onto the black market, and into the hands of terrorists world-wide, creating a dark era of bio-terrorism.
Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at Tyrell Corporation. If you have an idea for a corporation we could feature in this series, let us know in the comments.