I have to say I am a newcomer to Jonathan Hickman’s work but he has risen in popularity especially seeing as he was one of the authors of the AvX crossover. The Manhattan Projects is a commendable work based on the real Manhattan Projects with the greatest nuclear physicists of the era. The project involved the creation of the nuclear bomb and was part of the arms race involving Germany, Russia and the US. I was genuinely impressed that all the characters in this book are real life people and further taken aback when I found out that the key features of the characters are also based on real life. Examples include the defection of Helmutt Grottrup, the irradiation of Harry Daghlian and the robot arm of Wernher Von Braun. The book takes a character’s real life story and fantasizes it with an interesting twist. So far the overriding story arc has yet to be truly established but six issues in we are still meeting all the cast.
It is a classic science fiction trope with underlying conspiracies and alien invasions! The writing is superb as it conveys an interesting side arc and complex rapports between scientists. Hickman is a man of few words but no word is wasted, as at the end of this comic you truly feel for the character and have experienced his life story. It hits a level of realism as the line between good and bad guys is blurred leaving you to like and dislike as you please. Often your empathy will guide your feelings towards who are the protagonists or antagonists. Nick Pitarra has an interesting pencil style and people are drawn almost as caricatures with certain facial features making them recognizable. For example the swastika imprint on Grottrup’s head and the many personalities of Oppenheimer, which are actually drawn. Pitarra’s eyes convey the emotions of, despair, anger and evilness of the cast. Jordie Bellaire’s colouring is essential to the book as the flashbacks are colours in shades of red and blue and present time is cream and red. It may appear somewhat odd but it plays an important role in separating and comparing two stories. Combine this with the uniqueness of the art and you get a stylishly told story.
Though this is a fictional story about the Manhattan Projects, it really is about the relationships of the physicists and their leaders. The main theme is the use and abuse of tortured genius minds for the purpose of mass destruction, sometimes against their will. This particular issue is about Helmutt Gottrup and his wish to be free from government and military control. The book uses flashbacks to portray his forced submission to create spaceflight for the Germans and then for the Russians in present times. He is a man that cannot escape as much as he tries and this realization is devastating to him and to the reader. We are left wondering what will become of his plight with an uncomfortable feeling of dread. It is an ambitious comic because there is almost no action and it relies on an interesting plot and the personal tragedy of an imprisoned scientist. This book does not offer a long-standing plot and can be unapproachable. It may appear weird and difficult to understand, whilst being pretty depressing! If you deconstruct this book to it’s treatise of a human being then it is an excellent read.
“All men have masters. Some more than one”