Friday, July 5, 2013

The Manhattan Projects, Volume 1: Science Bad

I have been enjoying Jonathan Hickman's run on Marvel's Avengers right now, and I have heard all kinds of good things about other comics he has written, plus I like reading about science, so I thought I would give this book a shot. I was glad I did.

Science Bad is the first story arc from the ongoing series The Manhattan Projects. In this alternate history version of Earth, beating the Nazis is not the most important outcome of World War II, rather it was an era when a secret government project wrought amazing technical advances, including space travel, artificial intelligence, inter-dimensional teleportation, and contact with alien life. The main players are reconceptualized versions of some major figures, including Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, Enrico Fermi, and Wernher Von Braun. Moreover, these characters are not always what they seem. Many are conniving or insane or sociopathic. In all, without spoiling what goes on too much, I have to say that between the frenetically beautiful art and the twisting plot this book is an absolute winner.

Einstein v. Feynman, Round 1

What is amazing to me about fictional universes like Marvel or DC is how sturdy, complex, and articulated they are, but they have the benefit of having been developed over a period of decades, under the watch of some talented and dedicated creators. In the space of the five chapters of this volume, Hickman pulls off an impressively similar feat, engaging in a fictional universe-building that is simultaneously logical, insane, intense, and clearly well thought-out. When he shows you a device, alien race, or seemingly random event, it fits into a whole. He has woven a complex kind of continuity that seems simple on the surface but which must have taken much time and effort to conceive.

This book's creators Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra are frequent collaborators and Eisner Award nominatees. Hickman is famous as a writer for a number of series, including his own The Nightly News as well as flagship series for Marvel such as The Fantastic Four and The Avengers. Pitarra has also drawn the limited series The Red Wing. His artwork here is kinetic, gross, darkly humorous, and incredibly detailed.

Oppenheimer is a baaaad man

All the reviews I have read about this book have been full of praise. David Fairbanks gushed, "if you haven't been reading this amazing series, you should be grabbing this trade, canceling whatever you were planning to do, and burying your nose in it until you're done." The reviewer at Guys Lit Wire wrote, "This book is insane," and also commented that "I'm not sure how this is going to sustain as a long term series, but it's quite a fun ride at this point." Dave Buesing called it "a fantastic blend of historical truth and completely insane fiction."

I am not sure if this series is for everyone or if it would play as well to someone who did not have a knowledge of the main players in this series. Still, I think it plays like a tightly plotted, sober version of Men in Black populated with calculating, sinister scientists. I enjoyed this initial offering very much, and I will be getting later volumes for sure.

The Manhattan Projects is published by Image Comics. They provide a brief preview here.

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