Filed under: Exquisite Reviews | Tags: Alasdair Stuart, Enrico Fermi, Harry Daghlian, Image, James Oppenheimer, jonathan hickman, Jordie Bellaire, Nick Pitarra, Robert Oppenheimer, Rus Wooton, The Manhattan Projects
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Nick Pitarra
Colours by Jordie Bellaire
Letters by Rus Wooton
Published by Image
The Manhattan Projects have grown exponentially, absorbing their communist counterpart and becoming a scientific nation state in their own right. Oppenheimer seizes the opportunity to task this incredible collection of brains with four world changing projects. Ares will develop the rocketry needed to settle the solar system and beyond, Gaia will enhance humanity’s lifespan and Vulcan will develop long term energy sources. The fourth, Charon, only Oppenheimer knows about. For now.
The Manhattan Projects is one of the most consistent books Image put out. There’s remarkable confidence and depth to each issue and Hickman’s script continually swings between jet black comedy, dizzying science fiction invention and historical fact. The best sequences here deal with the latter, as the book delves into the past of Harry Daghlian and Enrico Fermi. In reality, Daghlian was the first scientist killed by the ‘demon core’, an infamous plutonium core that claimed two lives before being used in a test detonation. Here, Daghlian is arguably the most sympathetic character in the book, a radioactive skeleton who looks like a nightmare but is still somehow alive and, to an extent, human. He’s the protagonist for much of the first half of the book as we see the new projects launched, staff assigned and Harry and Enrico Fermi’s friendship solidify and then fragment.
Fermi has a very different road to his real world counterpart. Here, Pitarra’s slightly unusual take on him becomes a plot point as we find out not only what Fermi is, but that Harry knows and doesn’t mind because he’s the only one who still sees a human. Hickman uses this as a jumping off point for the entire next stage of the book, as we see previous events from a very different perspective and Fermi in a whole new light. The consequences of these issues will be felt for the rest of the book’s run and they’re gripping, emotionally difficult reading of a very different kind to what the book normally does.
In fact, this entire volume is about transition. Pitarra’s art and Bellaire’s stark colours excel in the closing stages as we return to the inside of Oppenheimer’s head and the middle of an all-out war. This is the point where the book sings, Pitarra’s precise, slightly feverish artwork combining with Bellaire’s precision colours and Hickman’s script to create an elaborate, glorious nightmare war in one horribly fractured mind.
Oddly though, this sequence features the first bum note in the series to date. It’s saved for the very last page, is a single line of dialogue and is the first time the book falls flat for me. Bear in mind this is a series filled with profoundly horrible, unlikable people but Hickman has always made them fun to read about. For the first time in this volume, there’s a moment which seems a little too indulgent and whilst it’s tiny, it is noticeable.
That aside, this is still an essential purchase. No other book on the market reads or looks anything like The Manhattan Projects and if you’re not reading it, you really should be. The brave new world has never looked more beautiful, or terrifying, than it does here.
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