In Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s new ongoing series from Image Comics, the duo attempt to answer the question of how many Oppenheimers is too many Oppenheimers. And the answer is infinite. The Manhattan Projects is an alternate history take on the 1940s development of the atomic bomb. Well, the atomic bomb is one of the inventions mentioned, but to be fair, its actually the least interesting of them all.
The scientists involved in that era’s discoveries all participate in the development of inventions far beyond that of the A-bomb. The idea is that the scientists who participate in these crazy experiments are basically amoral; Hickman has gone so far as to say that it’s the “Thunderbolts of science“. I don’t really want to give anything away about their scientific breakthroughs because the issue really deserves to be picked up and enjoyed on its own. I will say that the versions of scientists such as Oppenheimer, Einstein, and Feynman are overtly darker than their real life counterparts.
Pitarra draws them as exaggerated but iconic versions of themselves that are recognizable (at the bare minimum audiences will recognize Einstein). Hickman’s graphic design based illustrations are perfectly complimented by Pitarra’s art. The two combined forces on the time travelling fighter pilot comic The Red Wing, and are still tearing it up on their second outing. The story goes that Hickman picked Pitarra from an art competition hosted by Comic Book Resources to do some work with him at Marvel. The fact that he went with Pitarra and not an established artist is a revealing piece of information concerning Hickman’s willingness to take chances. The Red Wing can be seen as a very successful trial run for The Manhattan Projects. Pitarra draws in a style that is very clean and but at the same time subtly super-detailed. Images work when you stand back from them and just enjoy the grandeur of a scene’s layout, but the details inside the striking imagery are incredible as well. Cris Peters’ colouring separates scenes thematically but mostly fleshes out what is happening in a very ‘wow’ kind of way.
Using the development of the atomic bomb as a cover for more interesting secret projects will be a plot device that can keep on giving. This is an ongoing series, the fact that the first issue has so much quality content is a little frightening actually, as I wonder if Hickman and Pitarra can keep up this pace. The Red Wing was a condensed and deep four issue miniseries, I just hope that The Manhattan Projects doesn’t lose steam as time goes on. The working relationship between Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra is one that I can see becoming a hallmark duo like Chris Claremont and John Byrne or Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev. I hope that working on The Manhattan Projects will push Hickman to even crazier heights of hard-science fiction reverie and that it will hone Pitarra’s artistic voice and skills. Check out issue #1 if you can find it, pre-order everything after it if you can.
P.S. Those interested can read this, in which I Mixtape issue #1 of The Red Wing.