War comics, particularly those focused on World War II, have a long and storied history in the comics medium, and to be clear, Über is a war comic, first and foremost. And a damn fine one at that.
What Über is not is an alternate history, “What if the Nazis won World War II?” story, nor is it reminiscent of the old Timely and National Comics from the 1940s featuring Captain America and Superman punching Hitler in the face. It is, as mentioned, a straight-up war comic that deals with the waning days of the European Theater in World War II, with the Reich in shambles, and then adds a simple and evocative twist: the Nazis have been researching some methods to “upgrade” humans, creating more effective and efficient soldiers. Given the Nazis’ actual real-world genetic research, the pseudo-science behind Über’s upgraded soldiers does make sense and provides an air of realism to the story.
So far, the characters in the story are broadly drawn. The key German officers, Sankt, Speer, and Guderian, are all models of German army efficiency. Frankly, at times, I have a bit of trouble telling them apart. Gillen walks a fine line between presenting the German officers as the ultimate bad guys (after all, Nazis are some of comics’ favorite villains) while also illustrating that many in the German high command at this point in the war were not exactly 100% on board with Hitler’s policies. Anyone who has seen Valkyrie or watched the History Channel could tell you that, but Gillen does a masterful job of still reminding us that even though these officers may disagree with Hitler, it doesn’t mean that they are by any means the good guys. Additionally, Hitler himself does make the occasional appearance throughout the story so far.
On the Allied side, we have Churchill, who is used sparingly to date, and the “0” issue featured a group of Soviet soldiers who’d made it into the outskirts of Berlin. We see some of the real horrors of war here, and are reminded that some of the Allied troops didn’t always behave in the manner we might think of when we put on our rose colored glasses. And that’s part of the real strength of Über – Gillen and White remind us that, despite what Hollywood wants to tell us, war is not fun, it’s not all about honor and glory.
Other allies include an Allied spy/doctor who has infiltrated the Nazi’s research facilities to steal the data on creating the two types of Nazi “super soldiers,” aka “Übers.”
Despite the title of book, so far the so-called Übers – the rank-and-file panzermensch and the three ultra-powerful Battleships (Siegmund, Sieglinde, and Siegfried) – are not really focused on much during the stories. Each of the three Battleships does have a unique background and personality, but I’m looking forward to seeing them in action some more to get a better idea of their powers and how they each handle battle situations differently. It’s vaguely mentioned in the story that the Battleships are created to win battles, but aren’t designed to hold territory once it’s been won. I’m hoping that future issues do a better job of exploring this apparent weakness.
The latest issue introduces yet another character, an American G.I. who looks to be Über’s answer to Steve Rogers (aka Captain America). We also learn a lot more about the science behind the Übers and a bit about where the knowledge comes from.
Art-wise, Caanan White does some solid work here – his backgrounds and drawings of architecture and vehicles are well done. However, Über is a book focused on people, and much of his portraiture is a little too much the same. Remember above when I mentioned I had trouble telling Sankt, Speer, and Guderian apart? A lot of that is actually due to the art – all three of them look pretty much the same. He makes an interesting choice with Hitler as well – at this point in the war, Hitler was a defeated man and most of the pictures that survive from the period show him as thin and gaunt, with dark, sunken eyes. White’s Hitler, however, has a very round and almost fat face – out of context, I’m not sure I’d even recognize him, and Hitler has one of the most recognizable faces of the past 100 years. The inks by Keith Williams are sometimes a bit heavy-handed for my tastes, but they do get better as the series progresses.
Overall, Gillen has taken a somewhat clichéd concept – what if the Nazis developed superheroes– and approaches it from a completely different angle. This isn’t a story about how the Übers save the Third Reich. In Über, the Third Reich is already destroyed. Only by the narrowest of margins have they come into the conflict in the last days of war to prevent Berlin from being completely overrun. Now we get to see what exactly Hitler plans to do with these powerful weapons, even though he has no infrastructure to support him, and how both his own army officers and the Allies are going to respond. Despite the relatively average art, I’m really looking forward to finding out what Gillen has planned for the series.