The Manhattan Projects Project

Here is my latest project: writing a review of Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s ‘The Manhattan Projects’ from Image comics. That’s right, yet another comic book which begins with a definite article, meaning whenever I write about the The Manhattan Projects Project we’re going to get some very confusing wordplay going on. So let’s immediately drop that as an idea and instead refer to the title as MP, which is also what the front cover of the book does so why the hell has this become such an issue?

Seemingly designed by Hickman in his characteristic style, the book gives us a short prologue before a title page which continues the story from exactly where the prologue left it off. We’re introduced to the core concept of the title and central character immediately. Doctor Oppenheimer is hired by the US military to join their Manhattan Project – a project which the public believes is meant to be working on creating the first atomic bomb. However, the reality is that this will be a top-secret laboratory where some of America’s finest scientists work together on bizarre, crazy ideas like mind control, parallel dimensions, and cloning.

Issue one begins with a restrained opening sequence before gradually working in more and more strange ideas around the outsides. The first few projects in the laboratories are sensible ideas like linking computers together to create a database. The next projects involved religious icons, cross-dimensional travelling, and imaginary weapons. Hickman is clearly relishing the chance to put all this together, and Pitarra throws tiny details into every panel, giving careful readers the chance to see things like alien corpses being carted off in the background while the main characters speak. His art is insanely detailed, with a number of striking sequences as the book continues – an attack on the main base asks him to draw a full splash page fight sequence, and he does it with incredible style and eye for detail. It’s a flat-out astonishing book in terms of art alone, with each page packed with nuance and character.

Faced with matching Pitarra, Hickman’s writing is inventive and off-beat, with the narrative frequently flashing back to the life of Oppenheimer as he grew up with his twin brother. These sequences at first seem like filler, but eventually provide us with a thorough background for our protagonist. And then, eventually-er still, they offer us the first hint that something is going deeply wrong with this project. That there’s always one extra twist at the end is an ingenious bit of tinkering from Hickman, leaving the reader unsure what to expect next. Will it be a crazy science idea? Strange twists to the narrative? Or will one of the main characters do something bizarre? At least once, it’s all three.

The Manhattan Projects is one of the best books of the year, thus far. It shows incredible promise – but it also shows another long-term plan from Hickman, which is likely to take a fair while before things start to really pay off. But based on this first issue, which sees both writing and art spark off each other in an immensely satisfying, kinetic way, it really looks like something which’ll be worth the investment.


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