Writer: Jonathan Hickman Art: Ryan Browne & Jordie Bellaire
Manhattan Projects is a book that will challenge you. The story is not very straight forward, and it uses historical fiction to create a maniacally entertaining story. Fortunately for us, the ship is being steered by Jonathan Hickman; a man who knows how to weave complex and entertaining stories that reward our patience and examination. It’s as if Hickman has a roulette wheel at his house, with all kinds of insane scenarios on it that he spins to see where he will take this very un-merry band of scientists and military men next. For some that may result in a negative opinion of the story, but personally, I have loved the wild ride and all the ridiculous surprises along the way. Hickman and regular artist Nick Pitarra have clearly decided to go nth degree crazy with this book, and I think they are having a ball doing it.
Issue nineteen concludes The Oppenheimer Civil War, which has been going on for fifteen non-years–or three issues–inside the mind of the deranged twin of Robert, Joseph Oppenheimer. Drawn by fill-in artist extraordinaire Ryan Browne–of “God Hates Astronauts” fame–these issues have taken the fantastic levels of crazy we’ve grown to love in this series, to wonderful new heights. It has brought us moments that include Robert Oppenheimer storming into battle atop a headless horse to battle ninjas, barbarians, and all sorts of nutty iterations of Oppenheimer prime (Joseph). Robert is joined by “redeemed” analogues of his adversary whose eyes he has cut out, a process that converts them to his side. These three issues (10, 15, and now 19) have been some of my favorites of the series to date, for the unbridled approach and execution of such mind bending ideas. One thing that bugged me was that Hickman mixes narrative caption boxes with regular dialogue to provide an objective historical perspective on the state of the war. I’m not a fan of this technique, because I find myself distracted a bit when reading it, the dialogue comes off stilted, and I lose the conversation threads when it occurs the entire issue. Though most of the dialogue in this issue is limited to “Hmmm” and irrational numbers anyway, so not really a big deal, but it was one negative aspect I felt. What has kept me wondering throughout these tangential chapters about the war; is how it all fits into the larger scheme of things in the “real” world of the title. What are the ramifications of the outcome of this war? Did this happen immediately after Roberts death, or is it happening in this book’s present time? Thankfully those issues are addressed at the conclusion of this book, and I have to say, I was simultaneously delighted and bummed. There’s no other way to put it, because I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will say no more than that.
Colorist Jordie Bellaire—who at this point has earned all of our admiration and awe—soaks these war issues in two main colors, blue and red; representing the two factions, with some gray scattered throughout for a neutral balance. This palette has been reflected in the series proper as well with red always representing the antagonist. Is this some sort of commentary on communism? I don’t know for sure, it could just be that red and blue are both highly contrasting primary colors that work well to establish sides when all the soldiers are analogues of the same person–yeah let’s go with that, fuck symbolism J Needless to say Jordie is killing it as usual, and I have to recognize her contributions to the overall look and feel of the art. Speaking of art, I can’t say enough good things about Ryan Browne’s work on this. His style fits perfectly with the tone established by Nick Pitarra, so the transition isn’t jarring at all. Browne has a wonderful ability to draw lines that appear sketchy and detailed at the same time. His facial expressions are phenomenal, and he can drawn the shit out of a horse with or without a head, or in this issue’s case with a badass armored-head adorned with a laser cannon and blue fire-breath! That’s right a fire-breathing horse! How can you not be reading and loving this book!
So to make a short review long, I found issue nineteen of Manhattan Projects to be another great issue in a fantastic series. Hickman has been criticized in the past for his “cold” storytelling, and while this book doesn’t ooze with heart or feelings, it does deal with complex emotions and presents situations with bittersweet outcomes that left me feeling for the characters involved. After reading this issue I can certainly say I have no idea where things are headed next, but I do know they will be exciting, crazy, and thought provoking. This book, in my opinion, is Hickman and company at their best, and I can’t wait to read the next installment.