Sep 15, 2015

[Comics] The Manhattan Projects Vol. 1 - Science Bad

I fell in love with The Manhattan Projects after reading the first issue for free via comiXology. It's hard to explain what clicked in my rain when I read the very first issue since the comic can get pretty crazy. And seriously, we're talking about a first issue that included Japanese robots invading an American military facility my use of a transdimensional Torii gate. I kid you not.

But as I look at things again, it's easy to see the things gets me all geeky about his series.We have key figures of history doing pretty crazy things that couldn't possibly true but might still be remotely possible. We have a narrative style that is largely a science fiction romp but also sort of a satire commentary of the roles various individuals played in history. We also have the quirky sort of personalities that end up telling the best stories.

The Manhattan Projects is one of the few titles that I actually collect in physical form. Most of the stuff that I read and review tend to be digital copies, but this title has a special place in my heart that gets me to wait the additional months before the next trade paperback is released as opposed to scrambling for individual issues online. And we're all made that much better for it.

Synopsis: The Manhattan Projects is a science fiction comic series created by Jonathan Hickman with art by Nick Pitarra. The title is published by Image Comics.

As the title of the comic book implies, the story takes place around the time when America was trying to develop the atomic bomb that would one day help end World War II. The quirk in the story is that it assumes that the team of scientists assembled to develop the bomb did much more than that. In fact, what if that incubator of some of the best minds in the world didn't stop with a single bomb.What if they kept on creating different, wondrous things with seemingly no end in sight? What if it reached a point that their combined intellect could potentially threaten the very government that had gathered them together?

The comic primarily revolves around 9 key characters, although this roster changes and twists over time. We have Joseph Oppenheimer, who is presented to be a man hiding the fact that the has multiple personalities. There's Albert Einstein, but so far he just seems to drink a lot. There's Richard Feynman, who is another brilliant physicist (so far). There's Enrico Fermi, who may not actually be human. There's Harry Daghillan, who has turned into an irradiated skeleton and is not actually dead, as history attempts to tell us. There's Wernher Von Braun who has knowledge of rocketry and happens to have a robotic arm. There's Leslie Groves, the American general generally running the projects. There's FDR, but again not the president you were expecting. And there's eventually Harry S. Truman, and I think he has taken being a Freemason a bit too seriously.

This is a title that certainly has strong historical sensibilities since most of the characters in the story are more or less based on real people. It's also a crazy story since Hickman has managed to push each individual's characteristics to a somewhat extreme degree without reducing them to one-dimensional caricatures of themselves. Sure, we'd never believe some of the things that happen in the book, but at the same time we can understand why the person would possible do such a thing if such things were possible.

This is a title that celebrates the fact that being a genius is a superpower in itself, but you can't be a genius in all aspects of science. Each character has specialized in a certain field of science and how they end up working together across their respective disciplines is where a lot of the fun is.'

I'm impressed with how distinct each character is and how the uniqueness of each one is used to drive stories as well. Sure, it's easy to just have some bigger plot and focus on that. But instead, each character has very clear motivations and priorities and the book manages to explore what drives each one and push those individuals stories further. Even better, those individual idiosyncrasies inevitably come together during key moments, and thus the over-arching meta-plot is really more an environment for the characters to play in as opposed to the end-all, be-all nature of the story as a whole.

Thus at times it feels like the story is moving at a somewhat slower pace that what has become the norm for more contemporary comics, but I'm not complaining about this aspect to things at all. This is a well thought-out story that needs to be given time to fully develop. But given its ties to history, you'll be surprised to see just how quickly things progress and how soon the plot reaches new heights. And with each character having so much potential for stories, there's a lot that can happen here.

Lastly, we need to talk about the detailed and brilliant art of Nick Pitarra here. At times the comic feels like something you'd see in a MAD Magazine or something given how real everyone looks and how there was a lot of attention to detail. But the art style was just perfect for the story since we are talking about real people. The visual representations of the different individuals goes a long way to really driving the realness of the setting home. Plus it makes for some crazy, crazy fight scenes.

And yes, this can be a rather violent title, but not gratuitously so, in my opinion. The violence becomes necessary to the plot and the often single-minded nature of each character makes the decision to come to violence that much easier, I feel. Definitely not a book for young children, but it's nothing that would make you lose your lunch over. And let this act as reassurance that this isn't comic book series that solely takes place in a research facility. I did mention transdimensional Japanese samurai robots, right?

The Manhattan Projects is a lovely title that gets my brain all excited and leaves me with a good taste in my mouth right after I finish a title. It's a wonderful comic and I strongly encourage fellow fans of science fiction and of course science in general to make the  most of this comic. Thus the book gets 5 alien landscapes within Oppenheimer's brain out of a possible 5.

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