Überbabe, the alter ego of Vancouver entrepreneur and comic creator Lisa Voldeng, is everywhere at once, with swaying blond hair, an hourglass figure and almost ethereal take on the destruction of mankind.
In the first issue of a limited-edition, self-published comic book series, Voldeng has Überbabe -- with a body ready to strike an action stance -- witnessing the bombing of Nagasaki from the cockpit window of a small fighter she's flying. Sticking to minimalist comic book dialogue, she sums it up for a small Japanese boy onboard by saying: "Shhh, big trouble."
In issue two, Überbabe finds herself in First World War Germany, wandering outside a convent, dazed and naked, before being rescued by a nun and treated by the famous doctor Alois Alzheimer, who comes to a near religious experience when he discovers that she's the Überbabe.
She goes on to become a mystical apparition in Europe's machine-gun battlefields and then, in the third issue, the object of desire for Hitler moping through the Weimar Republic.
Finally, in the fourth issue, Überbabe, without aging a day, is in San Francisco in the near future where she's a professor of pop punditry and has an ultra-violent, sword-wielding, gay relationship with equally chesty nemesis Death Cat whom she gets reacquainted with on a TV talk show arguing the finer points of superhero media theory.
Let's just say that Überbabe's story, as written by Voldeng from her condo home office close to Vancouver's Coal Harbour, hasn't followed a particularly tight narrative, so far. The Überbabe story is said to unfold into detailed, revisionist versions of history, and a collected volume due next year will include written synopses of the comics and other background material to help make sense of it all. But probably not fully.
And that's the point. For it's just as much a story about Voldeng's own mission to create and market a superhero brand from scratch.
Having left a career as a Silicon Valley technology consultant and analyst, and with a growing sense of disillusion with America post-9/11, Voldeng, who is 34 and grew up in Western Canada, decided to return north and turn her small two-year old company, Sugarlab, into a mini media and tech empire based around Überbabe. She has created open-ended, teaser stories, which she hopes will propel the superheroine into an industry of comic books, graphic novels, Web sites, T-shirts and accompanying music CDs.
Voldeng likens the whole process to creating a small movie studio. "You have all of these little arms that may spin out of it and can spin across media."
With her tech and business background, Voldeng is also working on a kind of software licensing arrangement, which will allow fans to contribute to the Überbabe story on-line and to get royalty checks in return for any material that the company later uses. Imagine if comic book patriarch Stan "the Man" Lee, instead of writing quaint tales about a teenage Spiderman, had dreamt up the huge multimedia entertainment machine that Spiderman would one day become, and you'd have a sense of Voldeng's ambition for Überbabe.
"Instead of making a comic, it was saying, okay, let's make a story and then decide the medium. So I spent a good couple of years architecting the overall story, developing it basically independent of media," Voldeng said. Words like "architecting" tend to expose her business bent, even if she also sprinkles her correspondences with pop lyrics, Bowie-esque references to protein pills and the cribbed slogans of other superheroes ("your friendly neighbourhood Überbabe").
From the start, Voldeng seems to have been as interested in the business model for Überbabe as the character herself. Animated TV shows, feature films, all are goals for the trend-conscious action woman. Yet, Voldeng said she doesn't want to tone down the content of her comic books to aim more for a mass market.
"It's definitely for a 17 or older audience, a more mature audience, and not just because of any sexual content. The political satire and those kinds of things are definitely not for the under-17 crowd," Voldeng said. Issue three, for instance, ends with a rich Texan goofball snorting drugs, watching a televised preacher and deciding to become president.
As for Überbabe's sexuality, Voldeng said that the character isn't intended as a gay superhero, but that progressive themes are central to Überbabe's story. In truth, any political parody, revisionist history, vaguely gay themes, breasts and disembowelment all seem to go by in a blur in the first four comic books. But the edgy, indie mood is there in spades.
Yet, for all their big plans for Überbabe, Voldeng, her comic book collaborators and business contacts have decided to go for a cult following for now, with small black and white collectors' comic books whose square covers don't look anything like traditional comics. More like hipster placemats.
They have also created a limited line of T-shirts, sweatshirts and girls' underwear sold in California and on-line, and an L.A. musician is said to be working on an Überbabe CD, which will provide theme music for the first series of comics. The music posted on the Überbabe Web site so far has been do-it-yourself techno mixes and later music will likely fall in that vein.
With fans already sending Voldeng mail, she sees crossover potential between comic culture and the kind of Coyote Ugly, bar-hopping crowd that the clothing seems catered to, at least judging by the small pictures on the Überbabe Web site.
"With the music, there's obviously a hardcore music audience that a chunk of that [comic book]audience is also into -- alternative graphic novels and stuff. With the clothing, again, it's probably the same sort of audience, although they may or may not necessarily be big consumers of comics or graphic novels," she explained.
"Our core fan base that we've cultivated over the last year is a wide cross section of people, pretty mixed between guys and girls, probably mostly urban," Voldeng added. But with business models in place, the question now is exactly how many will continue to buy into the continuing story of the history-trekking, long-legged Überbabe. Stay tuned.