Travelling Man's Blog


Review: The Manhattan Projects Volume 2 by Travelling Man

Written by Jonathan Hickman

Art by Nick Pitarra and Ryan Browne (Chapter 10)

Colours by Jordie Bellaire

Letters by Rus Wooton

Published by Image

£14.99

 

Everyone’s favourite science nightmare is back, but for those of you who haven’t found the first volume here’s a potted history; Legendary scientist Robert Oppenheimer, the man who led the construction of the first atomic bomb is, in this universe, one of twins. Joseph, his twin, is a cannibalistic psychopath who generates a new split personality with every random thought. Joseph kills Robert and consumes him and, with this event a secret, is recruited to the Manhattan Projects by General Leslie Groves. The Manhattan Projects include the greatest scientists in the world, including Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein, Enric Fermi and Wernher Von Braun. Feynman’s memoirs of his time on the Projects provide book end quotes for each issue, Einstein is learning how to control an immensely powerful, ancient object which can open doors between universes, Fermi isn’t human and Von Braun is a partial cyborg crippled with guilt at his actions as a Nazi.

Oh and they have President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an AI.

 

This isn’t a normal book and it’s not structured in a normal way. This second collected edition of The Manhattan Projects picks up from where the first left off but comes at it from a subtly different. We spend a lot more time on the Russian and German side of things for the first half, taking in both Von Braun and Helmutt Grottrup, a luckless scientist who escapes the American’s initial sweep at the end of the war only to be caught by the Russians. His nightmarish existence is compounded by the secret pact the Russian and American science teams sign and through him, we see this as a world filled with monsters rather than titans of science. They enjoy the benefit, Grottrup is chained to a Torii gate, along with other Death Buddhists to use his own life energies to open dimensional portals. It’s a tragic, horrifying story which touches on issues we’ve already seen, gives us a different perspective on the characters we already know and sets up the next big event in the series; the coup attempt.  Enraged by the growing independence of the Projects, President Harry S. Truman, himself a member of a secret cabal known as the Illuminatorium, orders an attack on them, using the FDR A.I. as the tip of the spear. Suddenly, FDR is in every robot (And the Manhattan Projects and their Russian counterparts have a LOT of robots) worldwide and the carnage is near total. Von Braun is critically injured, Einstein and Feynman fight a running gun battle against them in low Earth orbit and poor Grottrup finds himself in the worst possible place at the worst possible time again.

 

The attack, and its consequences take up the vast majority of the book, as we see the Projects survivors working out who attacks them, why and how to retaliate. This being Hickman and Pitara, it’s exactly as queasy and feverish as you’d expect, the humour constantly battling with the skin-crawling horror of what’s going on. However, this volume also makes explicit the moment of true genius at the heart of this story about fictional ones; the book is whatever you want it to be. If you want a comic series about demented retro science, this is it. If you want an ultra-black Doctor Strangelove comedy where a version of Robert Oppenheimer punching a horse is one of the least outlandish gags? This is it too. And if you want a fictional history of the world from the point of view of the scientists who alternately saved it and damned it, and each other, over and over, this is it too. The book’s mercurial, changing all the time and always holding your attention as it does.

The final chapter here, illustrated by Ryan Browne is a perfect example of this. Robert Oppenheimer, or the idea of Robert Oppenheimer, or possibly his soul, awakens in his brother’s mind. Browne uses the same, distinctive red and blue colour shame as Nick Pitarra does to differentiate them and takes us on a journey into the heart of the polite, softly spoken monster at the heart of the book. It’s unforgettable work, the frantic visuals a perfect mesh with the rest of the book but the story not only drastic different, but set to change the book’s future forever. Just as Oppenheimer and co are busy changing everyone else’s. It’s a stunning capstone to the book and a hell of an opening scene for the next act.

 

People talk a lot about The Manhattan Projects being one of those titles that redefines comics. It is. There is nothing else so unusual, or adaptable and nothing else which marries the demented spy-fi visuals of the ‘60s with the scientific titans of the recent past. It’s a book that’s extraordinary in every sense of the word, much like the people who inspired it were. This is an unmissable collection of an unmissable series.

 

Alasdair Stuart


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