Uber Vol.1 reprints issues 0-5 of Avatar’s “super-powered Nazis” series from writer Kieron Gillen and illustrator Caanan White along with a wealth of supplemental material. Per that material (and Gillen’s workblog) he was approached by Avatar Publisher William Christensen in 2008 with a “Nazi’s invent superheroes” pitch. Issues 0-2 were written over the next few years with White penciling along a similar timeline, having left the project for another long form work that has yet to be published. Everything from issue 3 on was written starting in 2012.
I mention the project's history mostly to point out Gillen’s skill as a writer, in 2008 his only superhero work was a one-shot tied to Marvel’s aborted newuniversal relaunch. Other than that the first Phonogram mini from Image was his longest work. Over the next few years he would put together acclaimed runs on Generation Hope, Uncanny X-Men and Thor, all the while apparently plugging away at Uber. It’s a testament to his ability that Uber reads seamlessly, with no obvious stylistic changes or hiccups between issues written over such a long period.
Elevator pitch aside this first arc of Uber deals with the historical final days of World War II. The Reich is in shambles but then a German General reveals that he has created superhuman “Battleships” and the tide is turned. The story deals with the initial deployment of the Battleships, an Allied spy in the Uber creation program and the Allies first response to the threat.
I enjoyed the hell out of Uber. Along with Garth Ennis’ Fury MAX book and much of the X-Men material Marvel is putting out it ranks among my favorite comics this year. Gillen’s writing style for Uber is dramatically different than what I’ve seen in books like Journey into Mystery and Young Avengers. Aside from being (obviously) very tonally different it’s a much more direct, maybe documentary, style. There are many instances of interactions between the fictional characters and Gillen’s interpretations of historical figures. I don’t claim to be a WWII historian but these moments feel authentic, and even when I’m (shamefully) lost in a conversation between German Generals I’m able to muddle through and deduce each characters motivations.* I find the characters interesting and since this is both an Avatar book (less of an implicit guarantee of a happy ending) and not a licensed property (we all know Peter Parker’s coming back) the tension of survival and success is genuine.
While issue 0 was a little rough I ended up enjoying Caanan White’s pencils more by issue 3 or 4. Earlier issues seem to have a lot of cross hatching on faces, sometimes to affect shadow, sometimes just because. It seemed like the inking got progressively better over time also; later issues seemed to have a thinner line which resulted in brighter pages. White is also saddled with the thankless job of attempting to make multiple white male German Generals in the same uniform discernible to the reader. Even if he’s not always successful there are enough context cues within the dialogue to get you through most of the time. Action is suitably epic as the Battleships use their “distortion halo” power in huge battles and also to smaller effect. Storytelling is clear and by issue 3 faces and body language are conveying emotion and intent very well.
Finally I want to mention the supplemental material in this hardcover. Clocking in at 160 pages it is incredibly extensive. Gillen’s “Writer Notes” are reprinted from his blog, there’s a long form interview about Uber and his career in general, a shorter interview with White, script-to-pencil comparisons and more. If you enjoyed the book as much as I did the supplements are a real treat. Overall this is a great story, and this “Enhanced” hardcover is a great package. Highly recommended.
*I’m also helped along by the extensive backmatter, including Gillen’s “Writer Notes” for each issue.