Friday 4 December 2015

Panel No.24: Big Ben & Über

This post originally appeared on The Daily Constitutional in September 2015.

Panel No. 24: Big Ben & Über

When I was nine years old  I saw the movie Planet of the Apes on the telly. The final scene stays with me to this day…


Having escaped slavery in the world of the apes, marooned astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston, sans shirt of course) drops to his knees before the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, and bellows: "We finally really did it ... You Maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

Just remembering the scene – stark, un-scored – brings back the chills of the nightmares it created for weeks afterward. That was the stuff that sleepless nights were made of in a Shadow-of-The-Bomb childhood back in the 70's.

The scene haunts me yet. But I hadn't thought of it in a while. Not, that is, until I popped into Orbital Comics recently and saw this…

Suddenly I was nine again. The heart-stopping cover image brought those childhood nightmares roaring back.

There's a lot going on this powerful cover. The colour of the sky makes me think of that famous Churchill legend, his comment, upon seeing the southern sky aglow on the night of the Crystal Palace fire in 1936: "It is the end of an age."

The statue of Boudicca at the north end of Westminster Bridge is first broken, then dwarfed and finally usurped by the Übermensch superhuman fighting machine as she holds the Union Flag like a souvenir atop County Hall.

Über is written by Kieron Gillen and illustrated by Daniel Gete. It is a World War Two alternative history, envisaging a stalemate in May 1945 when the Nazis develop a new secret weapon, the Übermen. It is both a dark subversion of the superhero and a thoroughly gripping thriller.

I've visited Über already on this tour. Regular readers will remember that its explicit wartime subject matter created a quandary for this blogger. On the day I sat down to cover it, back in January, the first rumblings of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity in Paris began to filter through (catch up with the post HERE).

The landmark chosen for the cover of this comic book (episode 27, the last in the first cycle of the Über story) underpins one of our running themes in this virtual tour: if you want to set your location as London, draw Big Ben as your centrepiece. We've now visited that famous clock with The Fantastic FourDeadpool AND SpidermanScooby Doo and not one but THREE Disney films.

I'd love to have been party to the process that ended in Big Ben chosen for the cover. Did they consider St Paul's Cathedral? Would St Paul's have worked? It comes to mind because of Churchill's oft-cited remark during the worst days of the Blitz, "At all costs St Paul's must be saved."

It would have made a nice historic chime but, ultimately, Wren's cathedral is probably too redolent of the Capitol building in Washington D.C to "read", especially for North American readers.

That Big Ben represents parliament and power makes it a natural choice for this cover. If you want to show an emasculated Britain, then snap-off its most powerful symbol of democracy. It's a masterful piece of graphic storytelling and typical of the Über narrative so far.

This talk of emasculation reminds me of another piece of WWII mythology: it is said that, had Hitler emerged victorious, he planned to remove Nelson's column from Trafalgar Square and plant it at the heart of Albert Speer's new Berlin. True or not, you don't have to be a Freudian genius to see the symbolism in that one.

Trafalgar Square and other Westminster locations featured the last time we posted about Über in this series (catch up with that post HERE). Über will return to comic book stores in 2016. And while I'll miss the London locations - the next part of the tale moves to the United States – I'll look forward to following its harrowing narrative.

The collected Über Vol 5 will be published in November this year. 

Kieron Gillen also writes The Wicked + The Divine, which featured as panel 10 of my "tour". Click HERE to read that post.

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