Home >Mint-lounge >Features >Rewriting the past: Wunderwaffen & What if?

Alternate histories have always been a fan favourite. While traditional science fiction looks towards the future, this subgenre looks to the past, with all of history as a playground. To the writer of alternate history, historical facts are merely pixels, which can be re-arranged to form a new picture. The formula is simple: Every writer looks for a “junction point" in the established stream of history, where things could have unfolded differently, and then builds a new timeline out of these “unhappenings".

Two French comics recently translated into English are chronicles of these contra-factual storylines. Both are published digitally by Delcourt-Soleil (English) and are available to read on the website ComiXology.

Wunderwaffen is an ongoing hit series written by Richard Nolane and drawn by Maza. By 1944, it was clear to the Wehrmacht’s planners that Germany was losing World War II. Their debacle at Stalingrad meant that the initiative on the eastern front had passed on to the Soviets. Meanwhile, the Allies were preparing for a massive invasion of mainland Europe. Enormous bomber streams—of up to a thousand aircraft—were penetrating Reich airspace and devastating cities and industries.

But the Führer was undaunted. He was confident that his thousand-year Reich would endure. He had great faith in the Wonder Weapons—Wernher von Braun would build city-levelling rockets, Willy Messerschmitt and others would fly jet aircraft that were superior to the Allies and, eventually, Heisenberg would crack the secret of the atom. These special projects—the wunderwaffe—would turn the tide. They would indeed change the world—almost every single tool in today’s arsenals, from cruise missiles to drones, from stealth technology to jet fighters, came out of Nazi R&D—but it wasn’t enough to change the tide of the war.

In Nolane and Maza’s world, however, it is 1946 and the war is still on. Nolane locates his pivot as the D-Day landings, which have failed, allowing the Germans to stabilize the eastern front. With no movement on the ground, the war has shifted to the air. Maza’s art puts you in the cockpit of massive air battles between German interceptors and Allied armadas of giant four-engined bombers. You can almost feel the g-force as the panels twist and turn, loop and yaw in dizzying fashion.

Wunderwaffen was initially conceived as a series themed around aviation, looking at concepts and aeroplane designs that could have changed history.

The plot is incidental, the characters merely cardboard; the beauty is in the beasts of the Nazi war machine. The star of the show is the Lippish P13, an experimental craft that never left the drawing-board in real life.

What If?, written by Jean-Pierre Pecau and drawn by Philippe Buchet, is elegantly simple. In each issue, Pecau builds on a different counter-factual premise. Issue No.1 is Russians On The Moon, which sees a micrometeorite puncture the hull of Apollo 11 and kill Neil Armstrong and company. In this timeline, Sergei Korolev, the legendary designer of Soyuz, is still alive and, thanks to his genius, the first “man" on the moon is Valentina Tereshkova, who proudly plants the hammer and sickle on lunar soil. A decade later, both superpowers have moon bases while back on earth, they are caught in a tense face-off.

Pecau throws in political intrigue, family drama and mafia dons, all wrapped up in a techno-thriller package. The rival moon colonies soon begin a contraband trade of vodka and weed—and when a Russian engineer makes an American astronaut pregnant, the two bases have to work together to keep the baby away from the respective authorities.

Uchroniques, as the French call them, are here to stay, in all the timelines of history.

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