I've been following Kieron Gillen's comics ever since I read his Journey into Mystery. I haven't read Phonogram - yet - but I've read his Uncanny X-Men, his Young Avengers and now his Iron-Man (and his Avengers vs X-Men: Consequences, which was the best part of the event) and I'm going to read The Wicked and the Divine. There is something about his take on the story or the characters, something about what he likes to explore and how he explores it that appeals to me. Reading Gillen, much like Jonathan Hickman, Brian Wood or Haden Blackman, makes for a different view of a recognizable marvel universe. This led me to pay some attention to the announcement of Über, though it ended up showing me a new Gillen.
I like art that references Nazism and the Second World War, it's something we still need to learn from, with suffering that we need to bring to the present, to each one of us humans. Few events on our recent history are so full of revelations on what humanity is and how far each human is able to go in pursuit of what he wants or believes. On the other hand, I fear that too many fictional pieces about it may turn it into a story, more than history, possibly creating a barrier to a recognition of ourselves as its agents.
Treading on the edge, Über wins its gambit, because Gillen and White take it seriously. The story starts with history and becomes alternate history, at a point where the creation of a kind of super[über]-men is able to change the course of the war before Berlin falls. The reader follows what happens to certain people key to the creation and deployment of these human weapons and they take us right to the top of the hierarchies driving the war in Europe, Churchill and Hitler, as they deal with these unpredictable events. Meanwhile, three developments stand out:
- the military types, as the war effort is forever changed, how they follow or betray principles, what drives each one of them and how that is reflected on the battlefield;
- the war, as much as it is changed with the übermensch, being just as it always is - suffering, sweat, blood, tears, fear, terror, death - war;
- the übers themselves, as the authors explore being living weapons in the middle of a world war and how that relates to each one's previous life and personality.
Simultaneously, we get espionage and then some science fiction, as we get to know what is behind the creation of these super-men, something we know is going to keep being developed at the same time as, historically, the Manhattan Project would be on the go.
Caanan White's art - one I'm sure wouldn't call to me if I looked at it randomly - ends up being an essential part of what makes this such a good depiction of a fictional war that started with a very real conflict. There is no special effect in the representation, no minimalist drawing, no metaphorical death or character. Caanan White gives us people, far too real people, as they do and suffer the worst humanity has to offer.
The enhanced edition I got (because some friends really know what kind of presents I like) brought with it a few other surprises, including interviews with the authors, a text about Über, some of Kieron Gillen's thoughts about each of the pages, and finally some of White's art before coloring - I'll tell you this, I think I'd buy Über illustrated only by this original drawings, it's that good.
The only real negative point I can speak of is that the difference in storytelling from the first to the second half of the book is far too noticeable. The good news is that it keeps getting better.
I highly recommend Über as an alternate history and sci-fi World War II comic that has a lot to teach, to explore, to make the reader feel as it tell an enticing story. This first part ends as... well, prepare yourself for the end of the first volume. I'm waiting for the second.