The first thing you should know before picking up Über is that it’s horrifically violent. The ongoing series written by Kieron Gillen and published by Avatar Press and follows an alternate history where Nazi Germany develops supersoldiers, prolonging the Second World War. The story is fascinating and presents a no-holds barred look at, in Gillen’s own words, what would have happened if Germany got the Bomb first, with enough historical fact to justify the more out-there parts of the story. It isn’t an easy read, but it gives a rare insight into the reasons people, for example, fight for Nazi Germany.
The narrative picks up seconds before Hitler kills himself in the depths of the Führerbunker when an army of enhanced humans led by three seemingly all-powerful “battleship” class super-soldiers turns certain defeat into a total rout of the Soviet forces present in Berlin. An arms race follows and the conflict quickly spirals out of control as a new, more brutal, round of the war begins.
The series is worth reading, in my opinion, because of the unafraid and unapologetic way to it tackles bigger, and more sensitive, themes. Hell, one of the larger parts of the series is devoted to humanizing the German battleships and understanding do what they fight at all. One is for revenge against the British, one is simply because he’s a soldier doing his duty, and yes, one is just a Nazi cunt, but all of them are treated as fully fleshed out humans instead of the Nazi caricatures that plague the “WWII but weird” genre. The Allies themselves do not escape this treatment either and receive a thorough once over from Gillen and company. Aside from the obvious fact that Stalin was a monster who did monstrous things before, during, and after the war, it shines a harsh light on the more difficult aspect of the US and UK war efforts. For the US there’s the issue of race and how they react to two of their potential battleships being African-American (spoilers: it’s incredibly unflattering) and for the British there’s Churchill’s overt racism towards the African and Asian components of the British Empire and the firebombing of Dresden comes back to haunt them (why do you think one of the German battleships wants revenge so badly?). This treatment is entirely period accurate and Gillen has clearly gone to great lengths to offer true representations of the principal actors in the Second World War.
The narrative also takes the leap of commenting on larger themes, but all without resorting to author tracts and gaudy speechifying. A major theme is the dehumanizing aspect of fighting in a war, as many of the characters are literally turned into weapons for their countries. One character is even reminded that they’re a gun now, and guns don’t have feelings. Another is how the various governments almost callously discard the lives of their soldiers, sometimes for minimal gains or even to test a theory. It’s one of the best examples of having a point to make and showing it instead of just telling it.
Which isn’t to say that it’s a perfect series. There are some serious flaws in the storytelling, mainly that, for the purpose of surprising the reader, information is held back until the last minute. It gives the impression that the narrative is coming up with ass pulls for the sake of keeping the story going. Which leads into the next point, that it requires a hefty suspension of disbelief to accept that the tattered remains of the Axis forces could have managed to fight off the Allies, even with super-soldiers. Not enough attention is paid to justify how the Germans can keep up the pace of operations they do in the story, but that falls more into the realm of a nitpick made more noticeable if the reader is historically inclined. Also, it has suffered from serious schedule slip in the past and very easily could more in the future. Again, this isn’t a perfect story, just one worth reading.
Now, earlier when I said that Über is horrifically violent, I meant it in the most literal sense of the word “horrific”. It’s all at once frightening and discomforting and upsetting, but that’s the point. The gore is significant, roughly the D-Day scene from Saving Private Ryan cranked up to 11. This is by design. It’s hard to look at in a way that most comics wouldn’t even dream of, but the gore has a purpose. The series takes the theme of “war is hell” and drives that point home in a way that few stories in any medium are willing to express, and is all the better for it.
It’s worth reading, without a doubt, but it won’t be an easy read.
-Content warning for this one: lots and lots violence with realistically unsettling levels of gore to match, nudity and sexual situations that believe me are not the sort of thing you’d want to wank to, and lots of fucking cursing-
My editor recently made the perhaps inadvisable step of letting me share my bizarre taste in comics to all of our readers here at A Place to Hang Your Cape, so look for more articles in the same vain as this one. Many of them will contain mature content in one form or another, so be advised about that and don’t share horrific war comics with your little cousins.
If you’ve got a problem with that/if you think that’s awesome, let us know by leaving a comment or hitting us up on twitter @AP2HYC. If you’d like to talk smack to me personally you can find me at @Bard_Brehon.