Review: Über – Volume 1 / Author: Kieron Gillen / Artist: Canaan White / Publisher: Avatar / Release Date: April 22nd
It’s April 1945, and the Second World War is nearing its end. Hitler retreats to his bunker as Russian forces topple Berlin. So far, so historically accurate. But the Nazis have one more trick up their sleeve – Übermenschen, a race of enhanced superhumans who could turn the tide of war. These anti-Captain Americas, bullet-resistant and able to blitz destructive energy from their eyes, are the crackingly scary central concept behind Kieron Gillen’s Über – it’s just the kind of batshit-crazy scheme perfect for comic book Nazis.
Starting with the defence of Berlin and leading up to a devastating assault on Paris, this first volume doesn’t hold back, nor is it for the faint-hearted – Canaan White relishes depicting bloody carnage in brilliantly nasty detail (there must be an average of one brain pulled apart per page), all washed in a grungy palette of browns and greys. And red. A lot of red.
The narrative is carefully structured as an ensemble piece, taking in historical names such as Hitler, Churchill, Speer, and even Alan Turing, as well as a cast of original characters. The most interesting of these is Stephanie, a British scientist operating undercover in the Übermenschen laboratory. Hating herself for the terrible acts she’s been involved in on both sides, Stephanie desires nothing more than to escape the war, but is duty-bound to help Churchill counter Germany’s new-found power. Many of the other characters, including the three ‘battleship’-class Übermenschen (massive, indestructible bastards) are set up for further development down the line, if not explored in too much depth here – we spend less time inside their minds and more time literally inside the heads of the guys they’re ripping apart.
What we do get is, through the various points of view, a complex analysis of how war shapes power structures and human nature – not a simple good vs evil tale as Nazi stories tend to be. While some characters commit dreadful acts without remorse, others, even among the Übermenschen, are much more regretful about their position in the war. At first you may feel uneasy being asked to sympathise with Nazi characters, but the book as a whole is in no way on their side. The world of Über is extremely morally complex and, over time, this cast of characters could become truly compelling. Volume 1 certainly packs a lot in and gets the story going with a bang. It’s not easy reading but dark and clever stuff – you won’t laugh, you probably won’t cry, but it might make you think. It’s a world where war is horrific and people in power make horrible decisions. A worryingly real world.