Reviewed by Sean Stoltey
Hickman (n): from an ancient forgotten tongue actually created in the far flung future, meaning “Holy crap that’s great writing”. In case that wasn’t obvious enough, I’m a Hickman fan. Admittedly, I can’t claim to have been so before he got to the mainstream. Or more accurately, the mainstream caught up to him. I first heard of him from his work on Fantastic Four. When I finally sat down and read through his run on the book, I was hooked and have made FF and the re-launched Fantastic Four appointment reading every month when they come out. I then was handed his book Pax Romana and I still have the LSD-like flashbacks from trying to wrap my brain around that book. That’s a compliment by the way. Then his recent Ultimates run had me ready to put The Manhattan Projects in a syringe and spike it into my vein. Turns out you can’t inject books. My bad. Hickman’s high concept sci-fi has been crack for me and with this book he throws in another happy pill for me. History. More specifically, an alternate history about The Manhattan Project. For those who don’t know, the people involved are the ones who created the Atom Bomb. He takes the history of the Manhattan Project, makes it plural and sets about brewing a history/sci-fi stew that is quite a mental meal.
The first issue deals with Robert Oppenheimer and his induction into the Project(s). While introducing us to what the Manhattan Projects (and the incredibly entertaining “man in charge” General Groves) is going to be, we also get a biography of Oppenheimer and his twin brother Joseph. They couldn’t be more different of course, but at the same time they really are the same. It’s a classic trope, the old flip sides of the same coin, but it’s done quite well here. The art by Nick Pitarra is somewhat reminiscent of Frank Quitely. A lot of the pages that are the “now” portion of the story are laid out in a way that makes the panels seem like shots from a widescreen movie. As far as size and shape go. When the action hits, and boy does it, he does take full advantage of his page. What I really enjoyed though, was the page layouts in the biographical sections. They take FULL advantage of the uniqueness of comics, presenting the life stories of the twin Oppenheimer boys in all their similarity and disparate difference. The panels are equal size in double page spread, with Robert’s life running along the top of the page and tinted blue, while Joseph’s runs along the bottom of the page tinted red. Red is an incredibly appropriate color, I’ll assume you can guess why. Joseph is definitely the scarred side of this coin, if you’ll allow me the reference. Their back story and the “now” story culminate into an ending that had me cursing out loud (in the best way possible) and wanting the next issue very badly.
And this is why I waited until the second issue came out to start this book. I had a feeling it was going to be enjoyable for me and Hickman knows how to leave you wanting more. Also, I know it is poor grammar to start a sentence with and. I’ve allowed myself to do it here because it seemed right for the point I was making. After the holy s#!+ ending of issue one I dove right into issue two. The point made at the end of the first issue is reference at one point in the book but is not the main story, and that’s okay. Because once again we are off and running into the wild and crazy alternate history of the Manhattan Projects. Einstein made a brief appearance in the first issue and there’s quite a bit more of him here. Which means this is a comic I am going to try to share with my Dad. A rare occurrence, believe me. In issue two we are introduced to the other scientists that are part of the Manhattan Projects. At least one of which needs to have his back story become a future issue. You’ll see what I mean. The main plot in this issue is centered on whether or not the members of the Project are okay with recruiting Nazi scientists to their cause now that World War II is winding down. Richard Feynman is sent to Europe to accompany the U.S. Army as it takes the Nazi stronghold housing said scientists. As usual I’ve been vague with details because I am adamantly opposed to spoiling a book. Let’s just say you should never trust a Nazi scientist with a robotic arm. More threads are sewn for future plots and I for one am quite excited to see where this all goes. Since there’s pretty much one story going on this issue, no flashback biography, Pitarra takes a bit more advantage of his pages. The layouts take more advantage of the page than before. That’s not a complaint about the first issue. The layout styles employed there serviced that story perfectly. That’s one of the highest compliments I think, the art perfectly serves the story it’s telling. So many times panels seem to be static shots in some comics. Not so here. The panels serve the pace of the story and the story itself quite well. The line work reminds me very much of Quitely and Darrow without seeming like Pitarra is apeing anyone.
|Jonathan Hickman – Ideas so large, he needs two computers|
All in all, there’s some great storytelling going on here in both story and art. As usual with something of this type, the devil is in the details so pay attention while reading. Another thing I feel I may not have really put across is how fun the book is. There’s a lot of concept and science and history being thrown around, but don’t let that scare you off. It’s a really fun book, whether you know any of the history or not. Hickman tells you what you need to know to enjoy the hell out of this book. I cannot recommend it enough. Both issues are available now, go and get them!
About the Article Author: Sean Stoltey
Sean Stoltey, writer, raconteur and retired rabble rouser, hails originally from California’s Central Coast but currently resides in Southern California’s BEAUTIFUL–San Fernando Valley. Screenwriter, Comic Book author, these are things he does because he’s too poor to be a Producer or Publisher.
Sean has been reading comics, watching movies, reading books and selling his soul (or at least his hearing) to Rock’n’Roll for as long as he can remember. He has been discussing and arguing about these things for almost as long.
So now he has come here to throw his opinions in your face as well and hope that, even if you don’t agree, hopefully you will enjoy them. For the record: Kirk was the greatest Enterprise Captain, Han was the only one that shot, Led Zeppelin was the greatest Rock band to walk the Earth and Keith Richards is the coolest undead person to walk the Earth. Coolest living people are my sons and my Mom and Dad. My Dad F—in’ rocks, and my Mom can kick your ass.
You can ask Sean anything at http://www.formspring.me/WWest3001 contact him via twitter @WWest3001 or boring old e-mail at SeanStoltey@yahoo.com