The alternate history of World War II continues by Kieron Gillen and Caanan White in a second volume of mass killings, murder and devastation. While Gillen and White seem to be tearing everything down around them, there are some moments within the book that provide a little hope, though they are few and far between. But one thing that is clear, is that these two creators have given us a book that may be gruesome in most respects, it is also one that is highly entertaining in its methodical approach to the horrors of the enemy and their ability to create superhumans before those who are good are able to do so. What is also quite novel about the series, other than the enemy gaining the upper hand, is the way the book focuses upon those other than the Allies. The multi-faceted approach the book takes by giving us a view as to what other countries are doing on the other side of the fence, good or bad, is one not often shown in comics, as most often focus upon the good guys, and it makes this title both unique and fresh.
The first volume of the series chronicled Germany’s success at creating a superhuman soldier, culminating in three classified as Battleships. Siegmund, Siegfried and Sieglinde have turned the tide of the war in Germany’s favour and while the other countries try to catch up, they cannot seem to match the sheer strength and perfection matched by Germany’s efforts. That perfection though, came at a cost and the Allies are unwilling to pay it as it means the deaths of many. This book opens in 1945 with Japan deploying their own super-humans to varying degrees of success and America, in the midst of it, possibly finding another candidate for them to try again. Russia is also featured in this tale and to try and get the better of Germany, and to hopefully take down one of the Battleships, they employ mass testing and kill over four hundred thousand people with the prospect of gaining nearly a hundred human weapons.
Alternate histories are always fun to read as they provide a blank canvas while still feeling and featuring the familiar. The creators get to play with a certain time period and build off of it in a completely different direction and it more often than not, is quite interesting. Marvel, DC and other companies have been doing this for years so why not Gillen and Avatar? The best thing about bringing the book to Avatar is the freedom available to do whatever the story calls for. Usually those things involve violence, nudity, blood, gore and other topics, ideas and actions that some publishers shy away from. And this book has them all, usually in spades. It helps to drive home the evils of war, and the cost of taking part in it. That historical path has veered away from what we know as the normal course of events, and Gillen, White and Avatar make it so compelling that we want to follow where it goes.
It is funny to see how when once country advances in the arms race, the rest try to catch up. You can never let another foreign body have the upper hand, and every country has that in mind all of the time. Gillen understands this and incorporates it into the book with the new armament being the super-powered beings. If he had written it to have been America reaching that point first, the book would be exceptionally dull and not much changing other than the Allies winning the war a bit sooner than they did. Having an enemy country, at the time, discover and deploy these beings before anyone else was able to, was a great idea. As such, Germany is confidant in their ability to win the war, especially with the Battleships on their side.
Two of these Battleships, Siegmund and Siegmund get a moment to shine in the book as Germany shows both might and tactical planning. As the Russians are ready to spring their trap upon Siegmund, called The Second Battle of Kursk, it is one against a hundred. While Russia has the numbers, Germany had time to perfect their soldiers and made sure to do so, as Russia simply rushed into it and so, even after sustaining injuries and losing an arm, Siegmund decimates Russia’s forces. Siegmund also has a most interesting dinner with Hitler where he shows the man who at the table is the true power. After a somewhat successful mission by one Battleship, it is decided to put a plan in motion with Sieglinde at its core. It is here that Gillen really raises the stakes in the book with Germany sending a bomb into the heart of London. It is no normal bomb though, but Germany’s female Battleship, Sieglinde and minutes after landing she is tearing the city apart. It not only raises the stakes for the rest of the world, it also features the death of a key player in the book and the war.
Kieron Gillen is holding nothing back in this book and there is absolutely no reason to do so. Nothing is off limits in this book and if the world comes crashing down by the end of the series, then he can probably say he did his job well. There are seeds for hope though, as the Allies have the technology and the knowledge to oppose those who wish to do harm. We can assume that Gillen has not made this book with the ultimate goal of having evil come out on top, though anything is probable at this point in time. What is most fantastic about this story is just how engaging it is. Sometimes it is like watching an old-time war film, sometimes a big screen blockbuster and sometimes it is like watching a newsreel. It has a nice balance to it in its presentation, a great pace and some amazing artwork by White to really keep your eyes on the page. Whether in single format or in trade collections, this is a title you should read simply for the fact that it is not like anything else on the stands right now. With the cliff-hanger this volume ended on, you are sure to return for the next.
4.5 out of 5