Regular visitors to this site will know that I love pretty much everything that Kieron Gillen has written. The man has shown a fairly amazing facility to find new and clever takes on old characters and familiar scenarios in titles like “Uncanny X-Men” and “Journey Into Mystery.” Though his output has been solely focused on Marvel’s superheroes over the past few years, he’s working on leveraging his success in that genre towards his creator-owned work starting with this title. It’s an alternate-history war story about how Germany developed superpowered soldiers towards the end of WWII and gave them the means to launch a counteroffensive. Early on I was afraid that this was going to be the first title I’ve read from Gillen that I really didn’t like; however, it manages to pull out of that initial downward spiral and ultimately delivers a story that defied my expectations.
The problem with the opening of “Uber” is that it really takes a while to get going for a title that was advertised with the high concept of being about Nazi superhumans. We start off ominously enough with one General Sankt informing another general that he has the only operational military force left in the reich. It’s followed by more scenes of Sankt commanding the Panzermensch various German soldiers lamenting their fate, Russians closing in on Berlin, and one researcher named Bergen who is revealed to have been a double agent. While the advent of the Uber leads to an unparalleled night of carnage and victory for the German forces, this researcher, whose English name is Stephanie, quickly makes her way back home to share the secrets of how these supermen were created so that the counteroffensive can begin.
Based on the opening issue and the first couple that followed, I feared that “Uber” was going to fall into a predictable narrative without any interesting characters to make following it worthwhile. It would involve British, American and Soviet forces getting hammered by the onslaught of the Panzermensch until they could create supermen of their own and finally crush the Nazi menace. The End. Not working in its favor was the fact that this represents the most serious I’ve seen Gillen as a writer as he zeroes out most of his keen wit for this harsh war tale. I’m all for seeing writers explore new territory, but he’s also forsaking one of his greatest strengths as a writer and serving it up only as focused tidbits of black humor through this volume. The fact that most of these initial issues are made up of unrelenting carnage and predictable chase scenes and minimal character development didn’t help matters either.
Then, as I read more of this volume, I started to see that my initial expectations were somewhat misplaced. It’s revealed that the Uber are not simple a giant “win” button for the Nazis to press as they have weaknesses that can be exploited. There’s also the fact that a good number of the German military don’t see their use as a way to win the war, merely as a way to shock the Allied forces into an armistice and eventual end to the war. The problem there is that there’s one person who doesn’t agree with their thinking. His name rhymes with “Bitler” in case you’re wondering and Gillen writes him as a power-mad little shit who loves his opera and is bent on getting revenge for the injustices done to his Germany. A perfectly hateable villain who has the most powerful military force on Earth at his command (again) and is surrounded by a staff who wishes he’d just die. That’s good dramatic tension right there.
Countering this is the efforts by Stephanie and the British forces to create their own Panzermensch. These scenes come off as somewhat expository as we find out a bit about the process that creates them and bear witness to the development of the Allies’ own Battleship-class Panzermensch: an American soldier named Tommy. Once they’re over with and the Battle of Paris begins, all that setup becomes worth it. It’s here where it becomes clear that “Uber” is not going to be about one side hammering the other relentlessly until the other side gets the chance to do it back, but about an intractable conflict with lots of give-and-take. A conflict where no side has the upper hand for long and a pyrrhic victory may be the best anyone can hope for. This isn’t what I was expecting to read about and I find it to be much more compelling that that. It’s something I can see myself following for a while, so long as Gillen can avoid dramatic anticlimaxes like the outcome of Tommy’s deployment in France. Such buildup for so little payoff…
Art is from Caanan White who is new to me. Based on his work here, he appears to be a solid artist in the Avatar studios mold. That’s to say he excels in detailing gore on the page while possessing storytelling skills that get the job done and nothing more. I think White’s work suits the material, but doesn’t really do anything to elevate it.
Though “Uber” is high-concept enough to sound like one of the many miniseries that Warren Ellis has published through Avatar over the years, Gillen has delivered something more promising than any of them. Not only does this series get better as it goes along, there’s going to be more of it as well so we can hopefully see the concept pursued to its fullest extent. Given how my expectations were pleasantly confounded here, I want to see if this is something the writer will be able to do in subsequent volumes. Yes, it’s very gory and arguably takes itself a bit too seriously (it’s not a feel-good read by any stretch of the imagination), but it’s an engaging kind of different and one with great potential as well.