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Manhattan Projects #1
By Zak Edwards
March 14, 2012 - 21:29

Image Comics
Writer(s): Jonathan Hickman
Penciller(s): Nick Pitarra
Colourist(s): Christiane Peter
Letterer(s): Nick Pitarra
Cover Artist(s): Jonathan Hickman
$3.50 US

Any day that Jonathan Hickman releases a creator-owned story is a day I rejoice.  While his work for Marvel has been top notch, including the espionage series “Secret Warriors” and his long run on “Fantastic Four,” I still appreciate his solo stuff a little more.  Usually taking the form of wildly inventive high concept science fiction, Hickman has tackled everything from our relationship to an increasingly corporate media to venture capitalism.  The latest project of Hickman takes the form of speculative fiction, surmising not only that the Manhattan Project was a cover for much more interesting (and further advanced) experiments, but also that the late, great Robert Oppenheimer wasn’t exactly as he seemed.

Oppenheimer is a curious figure to begin with.  Racked with guilt for the results of his work on the first atomic bomb, he spent much of his later life advocating peace and making fairly important contributions to the world of physics.  His famous association with the phrase “I am become death” (reportedly said after the famous Trinity Test) stems from his interest in Hinduism, and his younger brother was blacklisted for his Communist leanings in the fifties.  As a character, Hickman has a lot to work with, throw in an evil twin element and the story gets very curious indeed.  Framed with quotes from fellow physicist and Manhattan Project scientist Richard Feynman (I doubt they are actual quotes, but part of me wants to believe they are), Manhattan Projects takes a fairly foreboding look at one of human history’s scariest and most defining moments.

Oh, and there’s robot samurai.

The book is exciting, moving along at a pace that shows thought and intent, something Hickman’s project “A Red Mass for Mars” suffered heavily from.  The world is established, Oppenheimer is introduced and given some almost ironic depth, the mood is set, and the Manhattan Project is given both character and history, all in an efficient and wonderfully interesting 27 pages.  Feynman’s journal entries are extremely effective in streamlining and communicating his concept.  Each of the three entries are packed with so much atmosphere and coupled with Hickman’s improving exposition, which can be quite lengthy but reads very easily, Manhattan Projects never feels bogged down.  Rather, it feels fully realized, professional, and full of great intentions.  While he still has plenty to explore, Hickman has raised my hopes considerably.  I won’t spoil the ending, but things are certainly looking more interesting by the last panel, trust me.  I’ll stick around for the ride, hopefully Hickman does too.

Teaming up with Nick Pitarra, whom Hickman worked with on his last book Red Wing, is also an inspired choice.  His use of colour, coupled with Hickman’s immediately recognizable design, makes the book look amazing.  Pitarra’s art can be overly detailed, some characters look like they have wrinkles on top of their already copious wrinkles and blemishes, but things still look great.  I love the Einstein cameo for more than one reason, but the single panel of his face has so much depth and emotion in it.  Truly difficult to describe, I stared at this single panel for a good long while, soaking it in before even realizing I was doing it.  His sometimes graphic use of colour to differentiate the brothers Oppenheimer never appears self-congratulatory, only clever, and its use throughout makes the last panel that much more chilling.  I can’t wait for the next issue, hopefully Hickman keeps up to a schedule, his tendency to fall behind on these creator books can make things fairly difficult.

Grade: A-    Effective scripting, interesting premise, and great art.  What else can you ask for?