“Are you really foolish enough to think that Richard? That we have won? Because we have not. Not yet. This is just ze beginning of the oldest story in ze world”- Albert Einstein (MP V2 55-56).
So what is the oldest story in the world? For Jonathan Hickman’s The Manhattan Projects Volume 2 thus far, it appears the oldest story in the world is that when challenged a social structure or society will be inclined to react violently. This collection or story arc hits stands on April 17, collecting issues #6-10. It unwinds a tale about the old regimes trying to hold on against usurpers by taking action the way all powerful people do through instigating anything necessary to ensure a way of life continues uninterrupted, uncorrupted by outside influence. Such despotism (represented contextually in the MP universe as the Presidents and scientists) is enforced through comforting (or strong arm tactics depending on the situation) the general populace in to the belief that things are OK, that the people in control have the best intentions of all at heart. Essentially such control is about subconsciously or sub-textually nudging a culture that ignorance is bliss, that life is great and everything is OK, which was a hallmark of Cold War era America that MP is based upon. But in the MP universe there is no innocence, and the veil of ignorance does not exist (except initially for Richard Feynman in the first arc), as the usurpers are not the common people but the scientists and a faction of the military. Thus what I found interesting in this collection carrying over from the first arc is that most of the scientist characters use knowledge as a way to supplant those above them, some for idealistic reasons (Richard Feynman), some for philosophical/mysterious reasons (Albert Einstein), and some for psychotic reasons (Robert Oppenheimer). The road to obtaining that power, however, even for men of science is vicious, ugly,and violent.
Bringing life on the page to Hickman’s wild, shadowy ride is Nick Pitarra. Pitarra has grown stronger with this series from his previous collaboration with Hickman, The Red Wing. His line work is more confident not only with his environments and characterizations, but also in his overall design aesthetic. One example of that continued refinement in this volume is Pitarra’s designs of Star City which are beautiful in the few glimpses we get and contribute to some of the recent great landscapes I have seen in sci-fi/fantasy comics. I think by the end of this series his work will be entered into conversations that compare/contrast with the likes of Chris Burnham and Frank Quitely. Those improving designs are augmented by the color binary of red and blue that Hickman has decided upon thematically so far for the series, and Jordie Bellarie brings it out best in presenting the many moods/sides of the much conflicted Robert Oppenheimer. In fact, the final segment, issue #10 in sequence, with art assist by Ryan Browne, finds the whole crew solidifying one of the most imaginative and impressive undertakings of the series thus far artistically and in exploring a deeply conflicted character.
I like Hickman even in these darker moments, but his output is quite extraordinary in a modern context and has me wondering if he is beginning to stretch himself thin? Recently on Twitter he commented that he had wrapped up designing/writing scripts for ten different artists. But in what I am reading I don’t see laziness or any indication of phoning it in (and again, keep in mind I am not reading everything he is currently producing monthly), but I can’t help but think of Hickman’s output as a writer and designer as akin to the work ethic of a bygone era in comics, and yes I speak of the old heavyweights of the Golden Age, pumping out ideas, stories, and concepts as fast as they could and with an often successful degree of quality for the reader (or at least a satisfactory level of entertainment and escapism).
The Manhattan Projects is satirical, mean-spirited, full of sci-fi goodness, gory, and very dark. This is not a book for everyone, and the only thing I can say is that if you find yourself laughing at seemingly inappropriate moments in Stanley Kubrick movies, chuckling at the absurd in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, or understanding the novel American Psycho is a satire, then this book is probably for you. If not, you may want to move on down the road or at least proceed with caution.
Issue #11 comes out April 24.