There are a lot of comics out there, but some stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This,” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we look at part two of Kieron Gillen’s grim, grim WWII what if “Über: Invasion.” I offer a warning now. This is a heavy series and, while I will not be shying away from details, I will be keeping my descriptions broad and fairly light until after the What’s This All About? section. I believe in this series. I do not believe in entering it unprepared.
Who’s This By?
“Über: Invasion” is written by Kieron “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” Gillen (“The Wicked and the Divine,” “Journey Into Mystery”) and drawn by Daniel “Nails for Breakfast, Tacks for Snacks” Gete (“Absolution: Rubicon,” “Crossed: Dead or Alive”). The coloring is provided by Digikore “Kaleidoscope Eyes” Studios (“Absolution: Rubicon,” “Mercury Heat”) and, last but not least, the lettering is by Kurt “Impossible Year” Hathaway (“Batman: Under the Cowl,” “God Is Dead”).
What’s This All About?
“Über: Invasion” is the second of two cycles about an alternate WWII, which was kicked off with the simple premise: What if Nazi Germany got the bomb first? Only, instead of an atomic bomb, Gillen substitutes in humans with superpowers. What follows is 27 issues of alternate history building vis a vis events that we are familiar with, aka, in the words of Gillen, “watching Europe burn.” Now, with “Invasion,” we’ve gone from events having a foothold in history to being entirely new.
In short, we are forced to consider what would have happened if the war would have reached American soil. I do not bring up any characters as the cast is ever changing and the story is not about the people; they are simply the lenses through which we view this history. You could argue that, for “Invasion,” Stephanie acts as the central character, as she has the most active role aside from the battleships, but that would only be true of one facet of the American front. Needless to say, it’s complicated.
So, Why Should I Read This?
As stated above, this is indeed the second part of a two-part series. This doesn’t mean that “Über” is required reading. Gillen has structured “Über: Invasion” so that anyone can jump right in with zero prior knowledge. What knowledge is immediately necessary is provided throughout issue one, catching the audience, both new and old, up to speed. This is a new movement, with a new trajectory, even if it does come directly out of the previous cycle.
But that doesn’t answer the question I’m sure you’re asking. Why would I want to read a series about an alternate WWII? Or even a series about superhumans as weapons? Haven’t these stories been done to death? To which I reply, yes. Yes they have.
Yet this is something special.
Now, let me be clear, “Über,” and by extension, “Über: Invasion” is not an easy series. It is not a pleasant series. Nor is it a series that is enjoyable in the way one might enjoy a Marvel or DC property. This is a book filled with horrible, brutal events based on similar but different horrible, brutal events. For example, issue two. Upon both readings of “Über: Invasion,” (I re-read them for this article), I could not get through issue two without stopping, something very few books have gotten me to do. I had to put the book down, after the first color sequence, and take a few deep breaths before opening the issue back up. It is described as the “walking through Hiroshima a week after the bomb” issue.
It is devoid of the usual detatched, clinical historian narrative captions and is presented through the lens of the filming of a newsreel. All we see throughout the issue is human suffering and Daniel Gete portrays it in the most earnest tone possible. There is no sense of melodrama, no grief porn. Just pure, unflinching suffering. We are, by placing this on American soil, forced to confront what has always felt distant about WWII: the battlefields and the physical, material destruction and mass loss of civilian life.Continued below
While the art is in Avatar’s house style high levels of realistic details especially in wounds, hyper-detailed backgrounds, people, clothes, etc. Gete’s choices of what actions to draw changes the feel of the comic, slowing it down. Well, events don’t feel slowed down per say but instead there is a sense that we are lingering, with each panel a new beat. We see this in other places, especially when he destroys the city in issue one. This turns the focus away from the frenetic, kinetic motion of action, when we get it, to that of stasis.
I say all this not to dissuade you from reading, as this is a meticulously crafted story that dissects WWII in its actions, themes and broader impacts, but to warn you. This is a challenging series, it asks much of you. It asks that you engulf yourself in the monsters that create war, the monsters that use war, and the monsters that are created by war.
This is, again, not something new. Many “realistic” war stories and many fantasy war stories approach these topics. What Gillen does, and what Avatar and Gete’s artwork allows him to do, is make us feel the brutality of war without ever succumbing to the traps of these other war media, namely that of the sensationalist, voyeuristic gaze at the “horrors” or, on the flip side, “nobility” of war and the warriors. This is not a tale of one person fighting the good fight nor is this the tale of the soldiers who just want to survive the war. It is about a war, one specific war, and the ways it would have changed with one simple shifting of weapons. And superpowers. It seems like a big change but, in function, as Gillen constantly reminds us in his notes, they are merely another form of weapon.
I have talked much on broad ideas, as I tend to do, much to the chagrin of my editors, and have shied away from the technical. For a series like “Über: Invasion,” however, this feels necessary. There is no easy way to praise the artwork or writing of a series as serious and as historically messy as this one. I did it, imperfectly and partially, earlier but that was only one piece of a greater whole. It is hard to recommend a series as exceedingly bleak as “Über: Invasion” seems to be.
Yet here I am, recommending it to you all. So, for the final time, I ask the question you’re all asking: why bother?
To distill it all into a simple sentence, it would be that Gillen has created an alternate history WWII that does a better job of creating a believable other history that never shies away from the hard truths about the war it was built from nor the varying levels of monsters who participated in it. It neither glorifies nor seeks to eroticize the horrors of war. It challenges its readers, complicates our construction of history, and asks us to participate in asking the question: What happens when the worst of the monsters get the bomb first? You’ll have to read it to find out more.
How Can You Read It?
“Über: Invasion” currently has 11 issues out, with issue 12 dropping today. Find them, and maybe the back issues, at your local comic book store and for all you digital readers, they’re up on Comixology and Comic Cavalcade.
For those of you who want to read it in trade, the first six issues are collected in volume six of “Über” and the whole of the first cycle, (27 issues + a #0 issue + a FCBD issue + a special) are collected across five volumes or are available digitally from Comixology or Comic Cavalcade.