Review: The Manhattan Projects Vol. 1: Science. Bad.A comic review article by: David Fairbanks
So, Jason Sacks, Chris Kiser, and Myself threw down over The Manhattan Projects #1 a few months back, and while we all enjoyed the book, I had my fair share of problems with it as well. It's a rare thing when my opinion of a comic actually improves over time, but if I were to reread The Manhattan Projects again, in, say, a trade paperback collection of the series, it would receive a much higher rating.
Coincidentally, the first collection of the series just came out, and after five issues, Hickman and Pitarra's history-bending sci-fi epic has easily cemented itself in place as one of the best books on the stands today.
I'm going to get to the story, which I adore, in just a bit, but first, I wanted to talk about something that doesn't get a whole lot of attention in comics, at least not as much as it should. That something is color. Readers obviously can tell the difference when they've got a color or a black-and-white comic in their hands, both in appearance and the different aesthetic found in many B&W comics, but it seems to be a rare day to hear people talking about coloring choices.
First, Cris Peter, Rachelle Rosenberg, and Jordie Bellaire have all done excellent jobs coloring the series. Despite having multiple colorists, it never once felt like it, with the series maintaining a consistent appearance throughout.
Their work is not what I'm getting at with the color choices in The Manhattan Projects, however; instead, I'm talking about the layers of red and blue over scenes defining characters as, presumably, being from different dimensions. Up until this point, the blue hued panels seem to be depicting the good versions of the characters presented, presumably the scientists we're familiar with in the real world, while the red panels are their evil doppelgangers.
It sounds simple. Hell, it is simple, but it does a great job of causing pages to stand out as well as giving a method of storytelling that lets you skip over some chunks of exposition that a lesser writer might use. I say "writer" there, because I get the feeling that these were Hickman's decisions, as they certainly are part of the storytelling process and he's got a flair for design.
Now that that's out of the way, I feel like I have to apologize for disliking Nick Pitarra's art when I read the first issue. He knows when to use clear, straight lines and when having a less clean line is more beneficial, and this was something I don't think I noticed the first time through. He's definitely a great fit for the series and I hope he's on it until Hickman's done telling his stories.
With all of that out of the way, it's time to get into the meat of this story. There aren't many comics that I feel are aimed specifically at me, but The Manhattan Projects had a clip full of bullets with my name on them. It's an alternate history where the science going on during the Manhattan Project was just the tip of the iceberg, where the stars are the scientists themselves and the work they're doing is the cutting edge of science fiction.
Were you enjoying Fantastic Four and FF? Because this switches out the popular characters of those series and replaces them with famous scientists, then it cranks the science up well past eleven. It really feels as though this is what happened with a ton of cool ideas Hickman had for F4/FF that Marvel thought were too risky.
While the first chapter starts out simply enough as a story of multiple dimensions, a multiverse with infinite Oppenheimers, by the time we hit the fifth chapter, humanity has made first contact and is appropriating technology from alien species. There's the tension of the cold war, collaboration with Nazi scientists, an incredibly sinister Einstein, and after seeing the sixth issue, it looks like we'll be diving into the USSR's counterpart as well.
Hickman's doing a ton of world building, slowly setting his pieces in place, and while just watching he and Pitarra do it leads to a great book, I can't wait to see what their long game looks like for The Manhattan Projects.
Suffice to say, 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.
David Fairbanks doesn't get many things right the first time. He studied physics in college, loves science, music, comics, poetry, movies, books and education pertaining to all of the above. He will talk your ear off about Grant Morrison and Ben Folds, has an indie bookshelf larger than his Marvel, DC and Vertigo ones combined and if he ever actually grows up, more than anything else, he wants to still be happy as an “adult,” whatever that is.