Last week I read Operation Broken Wings, 1936 which was a heist tale disguised as a war story. I was still trying to stay away from superheroes so I went for some hardcore science fiction. And wow, did I ever find a book that was heavy on the science! This week I read The Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science Bad TP, written by Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by Nick Pitarra, published by Image Comics.
Everyone knows about the Manhattan Project, the top secret effort to develop a nuclear bomb. But what if the story didn’t end there? What if it wasn’t Project, but ProjectS? What if the best and brightest were working on things that made a nuclear bomb look like child’s play? Such is the question of The Manhattan Projects. Our team is composed of super geniuses that may be from our reality or an alternate one. Super genius that may be cannibals or composed of pure energy. This is the story of people who are so smart and possessed to discover something at all costs that they are willing to sacrifice all of us to find it. Welcome to the Manhattan Projects.
By this point I shouldn’t need to introduce you to Hickman but just in case, he’s one of Marvel’s bright and shiny architects. You either love or hate his work. The complaint that I always hear is that his ideas are so big and so grand but the supporting stuff, like characterization and conclusion, aren’t always well formed. I’m coming to the conclusion that most of Hickman’s problems originate with Marvel and not with Hickman himself because Manhattan Projects is an excellent example of grand ideas executed perfectly.
Any book that can have the grandfathers of the nuclear bomb, Joseph Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman, as lead characters is OK by me. And not just leads, but interesting and likeable lead characters. Well, as likeable as a cannibalistic, super genius psychopath can be. At the same time, the narrative running from issue to issue is tight. The events all line up perfectly as they should. There aren’t any dangling plot threads because it’s foreshadowing that gets picked up in consecutive issues. Most of all, the characters act in character because Hickman can define them as he wants. This is a return to form for Hickman and you can see why Marvel snatched him up long ago.
Pitarra’s art is just as good. He has a detailed style that is full of life and energy. His solid composition skills make the talking head scenes (hey it’s a book about super geniuses, what did you expect?) good also. Probably his greatest achievement in a book like this is making all the characters easily distinguishable. And it should be noted that colorist Jordie Bellaire does an amazing job. He really pulls it all together.
The Manhattan Projects is one of the most sciency science fiction stories on the shelves today. Hickman has taken some obvious science fiction tropes and amped them up to level 11. He’s taken some of the worlds greatest scientific minds and turned them into characters in a comic book! But most of all, unfettered by continuity, he’s written a tight story that makes you want more. If you are looking for a great science fiction story, then this is the book for you.
- David Lee