The concept of alternative history is a cottage industry of sorts that has a unique, albeit contentious appeal. It’s often presented in the form of a compelling, potentially plausible “What If” scenario that paints our current history as a series of miraculous events that are never more than a casual whim from deviation.
By far, the most popular scenarios of alternative history narratives take place in World War II. The War is to alternative history what orphaned princesses are to Disney movies. Most of these narratives boil down to the idea that if Hitler had done this or that, then the Nazis would’ve won the war and the entire western world would begin the new day with a mandatory salute to the Nazi flag. These narratives are extremely simplistic, often taken extreme liberties with known historical fact.
This is exactly why Kieron Gillen’s narrative in Uber is so compelling, but in a very different way compared to traditional alternate history stories. Gillen doesn’t try to twist or contort historical facts to fit a scenario. He doesn’t try to make an argument that history needed a few tweaks to become radically different. Instead, he crafts vast, refined scenarios built around the premise of Nazi’s creating superpowered soldiers.
It’s a scenario that we’ve seen before in multiple Captain America movies, but Gillen takes it in a very different direction. There’s no Captain America, here. There’s no Red Skull, either. Instead, there’s a complete re-imagining of World War II, but with the added theatrics of superpowers. Those powers completely reshape the narrative at the end of the war in 1945 in the first Uber series. Now, with Uber Invasion #1, Kieron Gillen raises the stakes and the payoff is both astonishing and ominous.
The situation, as described by Henry Stimson to President Harry Truman, is pretty grim. The Nazis have a new arsenal of superpowered soldiers capable of burning cities to the ground, annihilating entire armies, and spreading the kind of brutality that would make any dedicated Nazi smile. The American arsenal, as vast and resourceful as it is, has nothing like this and that puts America at an extreme disadvantage. It’s a situation that America is not used to being in, even today.
Gillen doesn’t change the logistics of World War II, something Captain America movies and Call of Duty video games tend to do to an excessive degree. America is still an economic powerhouse that produces enough planes to blot out the sun over Axis-occupied countries. However, Gillen doesn’t obscure the situation with the kind of ideals that dominate every ‘40s-era newsreel. True to Uber’s legacy, there’s a powerful emphasis on the barbarity and devastation of war.
This gives Uber Invasion #1’s its greatest strength as a narrative. The story is a not sanitized or censored. The blood, the destruction, and the terror all unfolds in graphic detail, benefiting considerably from Daniel Gete’s art. It creates a powerful impact, one that’s very different from other narratives surrounding World War II. This isn’t the kind of impact that evokes patriotism or parades.
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That impact doesn’t just focus on the American side of things, either. Indeed, the Uber narrative never takes any side. There’s never a sense that this is a story from the perspective of the Allies or the Axis. Both get a chance to assess the events, respond to them, and form a strategy for the future. No side is overly glorified as the hero and no side is overly vilified as the villain. In a story about real-life Nazis, that in and of itself is an accomplishment.
This isn’t an underdog story. There aren’t any inspiring speeches by General Patton or evil gloating from Adolf Hitler. Uber Invasion #1‘s savagery is only amplified, intensified, and expanded with the aid of superpowered soldiers. In some respects, the use of superpowers is secondary, but it is still very much the catalyst for the added violence.
This cruel, visceral brand of alternative history began immediately in Uber #1 when superpowered Nazi soldiers entered the picture. Uber Invasion #1 reflects the inevitable progression of that history, taking the war to the shores of America. Gillen dedicates the bulk of the first round of Uber to crafting a narrative around how superpowered Nazi soldiers change, decimate, and destroy the history we know in Europe. In the second round, he enters a period point in history that goes beyond anything old newsreels and documentaries ever explored.
One of the many defining circumstances of World War II is how America avoids much of the destruction unleashed upon Europe. The impact of this circumstance is hard to overstate and Uber Invasion #1 goes out of its way to highlight that. In this conflict, America never feels the brutality and destruction that Europe suffers. It never experiences the true horror of war on its own soil. Gillen and Gete bring that experience to America in this story and gives it just the right impact.
The true extent of that impact manifests in a very violent, albeit very theatrical way in the end. For all the exposition that helps establish the situation in Uber Invasion #1, it still finds a way to inject ruthlesness in just the right places in just the right ways. There are any number of stories where America gets invaded by Nazis, aliens and monsters. This invasion, however, feels different. Again, there’s no Captain America or Chuck Norris to save the day. There’s just the harshness of war.
Uber Invasion #1 stands out in so many ways, both in terms of impact and narrative. At times, it tries too hard to be a jumping-on point for those who didn’t read the first series. The amount of exposition does start to drag in some areas, but it never derails the story or takes away from the impact.
In the end, Uber Invasion #1 is a different kind of alternative history. It’s a different kind of World War II story. It’s different for all the right reasons and those reasons manifest in all the right ways. This is not a story that anyone, be they Nazi or American, would dare use as war propaganda. In many respects, though, that makes the impact all the more profound.