Author: Jonathan Hickman
Illustrator: Nick Pitarra
Format: Trade Paperback
Having recently been nominated for the Eisner and Hugo Awards, I finally got around to picking up The Manhattan Projects. In a 1940’s alternate history, the US government has assembled the greatest minds to assemble the bomb. Familiar characters grace the pages including Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Richard Feynman.
The bomb is the simplest of their assignments and the team goes on to invent many more elaborate inventions, including a portal to other worlds and dimensions. The story is actually bizarre, so to describe it in a linear summary is somewhat challenging.
It all begins with Robert Oppenheimer joining the secret organization. We learn of his birth and growing up with a sociopath twin brother, Joseph. Robert is eventually murdered by his brother and has his identity taken from him.
Even though this is an alternate history, I would have liked for the characters to be a little more true to the historical figures they represent. Albert Einstein is meticulous in his work and is at times aloof, so in many respects he shares the same persona with his real-life counterpart. Richard Feynman, on the other hand, seems totally out of character. In the comic, he is timid and comes across as serious. This is a far cry from the arrogant scientist who loved to play practical jokes on his fellow associates. I was hoping for him to playfully sabotage some of the other scientist’s pet projects, resulting in devastating circumstances. Instead, we see him cowardly groveling on his hands and knees in unfamiliar situations.
The artwork has a distinct style, with contours drawn with hard pen lines and colored with a unique pallate. The pages are often mixed with red, blue, and green, which is somewhat harsh on the eyes. I suppose it helps add to the confusion of the setting, but it didn’t draw me in.
Overall, I found this comic to be an interesting read, but I don’t consider it as noteworthy as a comic like Saga. The Manhattan Projects has a brilliant premise that is often intriguing, sometimes confusing, and never ordinary. The comic definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously, but often the characters do. If Hickman can reign in the multiple plot arcs and develop the characters a little deeper, The Manhattan Projects could certainly be one of better series out there to read. The story is fresh and I am fascinated by the great minds that are assembled and what they can create.