In They Rule, we sort of take things back to the bigger picture. There are brilliant scientists working on different projects in different parts of the world serving only one true master - science. But that's not how the world works and their respective governments naturally have their own ideas about what the scientist should be doing and how their discoveries should be harnessed for their perceived greater good.
And what this book manages to accomplish is just really make love these characters even more and just embrace all the craziness that defines this series. It's all totally brilliant.
Synopsis: The Manhattan Projects Vol. 2 - They Rule is the second compilation of the title. The comic was created by Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Pitarra.
World War II is over and humanity has entered a new period of piece. And from the ruins of the war, the scientists of the Manhattan Projects decide to make a secret pack with their Russian counterparts to continue to create amazing things. From their perspective, they're designing solutions for humanity as a whole and not just for one nation or another. And in time this attracts the attention of the Illuminati that actually run the world. And these world leaders won't just sit idly by while these scientists try to act as if they are an authority of their own.
This volume also does a lot to really establish more of the back stories of some of the new characters brought into the mix of things while also continuing to build on the characters that we've been following since issue one. The first issue in this collection, "Star City" is a brilliant story of two characters told in parallel. Sure, this seems like a rather blatant way to juxtapose the two stories together, but the visual treatment just kills it. We're talking sharp color contrast and heavy tonal shading setting mode and differentiating which story is which. It's all so brilliant.
And the repeated use of red and blue to tint entire panels and pages is an amazing technique that one has to praise Pitarra for. We've seen this since issue one and its continued use seems to become stronger and stronger as it tells us as readers to pay attention - something is going on here! But what exactly is happening can be tricky to figure out, especially since the colors represents slightly different things for each character arc that ends up using the color sequence.
The last issue in volume, "Finite Oppenheimers" is definitely one of the more striking uses of the blue and red shifts and quite a major twist in the story. As is appropriate for a book that uses "Manhattan Project" in its title, the series largely began with Oppenheimer and the decision to end this arc with a return to his character back story did some amazing things for the title as a whole. Sure you can just dismiss pretty much any of the characters as "just another scientist" but these little arcs really go far to build up each story and tell new stories based around each of them.
I love how technology, no matter how strange, is definitely celebrated here. For example, the first book introduced the concept of Japan's teleportation Torii gates that were somehow fueled by the life forces of monks. This book shows that the Americans haven't forgotten about this technology and they've actually subverted it and added it to their arsenal of tricks. And that's what it's all about! Each new invention or discovery becomes the basis of the next innovation.
But man, the characters are all damaged in their own way and this far into the series, it becomes more and more clear with every new issue. And since each issue sort of focused on one or more characters at a time, the pacing of things still feels measured, but also like it's gaining steam. And I love how there's a lot of attention on maintaining the larger meta-plot and yet also finding a way to explore each of the many characters in this story. And that's not easy at all.
I still feel that this comic is a brilliant demonstration of how comics are truly a visual storytelling medium that can result in some very creative ideas. And this book continues to play with how we think comic book stories should be approached. We have very familiar elements but also some crazy, crazy stories and some pretty jarring scenes.
The Manhattan Projects Vol. 2 - They Rule continues to poke fun at our history and the beginnings of the Cold War. But it also talks about the somewhat purity of science and how it stands separate from the rest of the world. The comic thus gets 5 robots controlled by an artificial intelligence crafted from a dead president out of a possible 5.