Union of Heroes

What Did I Learn?

Union of Heroes by Arne Schulenberg and Eric Wünsche with photography by Jens Sundheim and illustration by Patrick Soeder. Union is a superheroes photo comic placed in the Ruhr Area of Germany, complete with parallel world hopping.

Union of Heroes

Unfairly, the closest thing to the way this comic physically reads was a campy TV show from my childhood. This is mainly due to how the action is taken in as chunks and the moments of facial expression. While Union has some over-the-top elements standard to superherodom and you can tell everyone is having fun creating this comic, it is not itself campy in presentation, dialog or storyline.

It gets a little tangled to consider the possibilities of the story, so let me fill you in briefly. You have Marc (the hero of the story,) Erzengel (the hero of the parallel world,) Jana (Erzengel’s love interest) and JANA (Marc’s love interest from our Earth and whom we have not seen yet.) Marc and JANA are friends and she just shot him down before he went to the parallel world. Jana broke up with Erzengel and now he’s been missing. Marc is the parallel twin of a super hero named Erzengel (or archangel in English terms.) The Man Who Knows has recruited Marc and brought him to the parallel world in an effort to fill the gap left by the Erzengel’s disappearance.

In the latest update (141,) Marc is about to meet a woman who takes the place of other people who are about to die. As a matter of fact, she was just killed by Erzengel’s enemy Manero in Jana’s stead. The Man Who Knows is about to introduce them to each other.

We are left with ongoing questions in the standard superhero tradition. Where did Erzengel go? Why did Marc have to replace him? What will happen with Jana and Marc? Can Marc defeat Manero? What does this new dying girl bring to the situation? Is Marc going to be happy in his new situation? What does The Man Who Knows hope to accomplish with all of this manipulation of people and events?

As you can see, Union consists of photos which are then displayed over a black background. Each panel has a thin gold border to help it pop up off the background. The photos showed me something I hadn’t considered before.

In drawn comics, the usual point of view is standard eye level but in this comic you notice the finer heights between eye and bird’s eye views. The closeups don’t get too close – there are no half faces or just eye shots. I don’t recall any true bird’s eye or worm’s eye shots but you can’t blame them. It would be difficult to do and maybe a little unnerving to see the real world from either of these perspectives.

After realizing this, I tried to imagine certain scenes as seen from a few inches off the floor. They tended to take on a sinister quality – in drawn comics, the effect is lessened to an intellectual response rather than a body response of weakness and the story would read far differently. Likewise, we read the character’s facial expressions with far more depth and insight than we would apply to a drawn comic. It’s a different tongue with a similar visual language.

Union also treats us to some great special animated effects. The man to bird transformation and floating girl were very well done. Being photo based, they give a little more impact while still being done in a comic style.

I liked the narrator boxes giving a little personal outlook on the story so far. They not only help remind you of what has happened, but they also give a little exposition where needed.

I also have to research something. The images have alt tags which have all the comic’s text in them. I understand that the search engines frown on too much text in the alt tags but maybe that has changed.

What Did I Learn?

Overall, I liked what photos bring to the superhero comic genre. Just like any other kind of strip, photo comics have their features and drawbacks. The images are more effective in some areas but can be harder to produce or are more effective than what comic artists are typically used to. Union of Heroes is a well done comic which is exploring what photocomics can bring us.


  1. There is something deeply repulsive about this comic which I must admit I didn’t see at first. The more I read the worse it gets. Good creative effects and high production values in the service of a story which leaves a nasty taste. I’ll give the creators the benefit of the doubt … hmmm … ok I won’t. The fact that it’s made out of staged photographs makes this little more than torture porn. If he’d drawn this it might just be campy bad taste, but in this stye it’s just bad taste, very BAD taste. A good enough reason to leave photos out of comics I think.

  2. It is a stark difference that the photos create and I can see how you might find it distasteful because of that. (Of course, you could also very well simply dislike the comic, too.)

    We are conditioned to view comics one way and photography in a totally different way. There’s so much more information in an actual face and posture that the poses sometimes provide too much information for us to process as a comic, maybe.

    If you took the photos and photshopped them to look more iconic, I think it would be less shocking. I find how our perception works to be very interesting.

  3. I sorta agree with Mike. I haven’t seen many comics I like that’s heavily reliant on photographs. I mean, there are some: “Darths & Droids” is a fave, its predecessor “DM of the Rings” is quite good, and “A Softer World” is fine. But those excel in spite of the photos. The first two run a MST3K style semi-mockery route, while the latter never has anything to do with the photos (and also seems to mock pretentiousness).

    On the other hand, there are a lot of artists who use photo-references and use it well (Bryan Hitch, Alex Ross). Does merely breaking down the photos to solid colors and linear elements make them better comics? We might disagree here, but I think the answer is yes. By removing elements of reality, our mind is free to fill in the blanks with imagination.

    If Alex Ross were merely to show a panel with a photograph of a man in a Superman costume, we’d think it was the corniest thing in the world. But sketch some guidelines and depict the subject in acrylics with the artist’s purpose in mind, suddenly you come out with something that looks heroic.

    Interesting discussion in any case. I might have to appropriate it for my next controversial posting. :)

  4. Please do appropriate it. I’ve tried to imagine the sample comic image above as drawn with simple, unclosed lines on a white background. The shift in feel from detail observation/scrutiny to step back/ponder was immediate and impressive.

    To use photos most effectively would require a stucy of the comic process on its own, I think. The Union folks deserve some credit for doing a good job while paving the way for others.

  5. It’s certainly not photography itself that is the problem. The photographs are very well taken. The dialogue is a little stilted and the story may even be inventive. It’s the meaning we get when the photographs are used for this purpose though. A woman who dies again and again in various ‘poses’ for our enjoyment – well I can imagine one Austrian who’d like to read this from the cell where he looks likely to spend the rest of his life when the trial is over this week. It’s absolutely disgusting and the creator’s should be ashamed of themselves for this catastrophic misjudgement of tone.

    You may consider that I’m over-reacting, and really I’m not that easily offended, but this is one where I get up and leave. Consider my intelligence insulted.

  6. A few words from the creator…

    It’s interesting to see, how different the reactions on this story-arc are. Some people – like mike – feel offended. Some others – like Scott Story over at comixtalk – think that the powers of the victim are intriguing.

    I can assure you of aiming for the later reaction when I invented this character.
    Do I feel ashamed about my misjudgement of tone?
    Not at all. Because you can obviously read this story in different ways.

    Some people read it this way: “Urgh! They are killing this poor girl in these horrible ways! To imagine that people might enjoy reading and thinking about this – That’s sick!”

    Other people read it this way: “What a poor girl! She has to die and die and die and can not change anything about it. Or can she? Will there be any way to get rid of this curse? How would I feel about beeing in such a situation? And what would I do?”

    You see? You can either feel disgusted by the images – or you can feel pitty for the character and begin to relate to her… As you can imagine – While creating these photos we were aiming for the later one…

    Of course some of the pictures I did finally choose are distressing and maybe disgusting for some readers.
    I was shocked by some of them, too. And you can believe me: It would have been really easy to produce even more shocking pictures.

    But my aim is not to enjoy torture lovers. My aim is to entertain people who are looking for an inventive story.
    And sometimes this includes to confront them with some shocking pictures, too.

    So, yes, some of these pictues are insulting the intelligence of some readers, who will then get up and leave. I am sorry if people feel offended – but obviously I can not write a story which pleases everybody. Hopefully the people leaving will stay the minority

    I will go on to tell this story it in the way I think it should be told. And I am happy about every reader who likes what we do with this project and continues to visit us.
    Because for me creating Union of Heroes is a dream come true – and hey! We are barely finishing our first year! This is the first “big” story I am producing. Look at other comics and how they have evolved over the years. This is only the beginning…

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