“Everyone loved Harry Daghlian,” we are told somewhere near the beginning of Manhattan Projects #11, and within those four words lies the focus of this issue; a renewed commitment to the in-depth characterization that has been a hallmark of this already-classic series. In layman’s terms, what I’m trying to say here is that this book continues to be what is known in the business as “fucking great.” Not to hit you with too much industry-speak or anything.
As one of the forefathers of The Manhattan Projects, Harry Daghlian (who, in real life, actually died after accidentally exposing himself to radiation during the Manhattan Project) is at the focus of this issue, as is the origin of his best friendship forever, with Enrico Fermi, who of course enjoys his own infamy within the historic nuclear age.
This relationship between an eviscerated, irradiated skeleton and someone who promises to be not quite human, manages to be both spirited and endearing. Its deeply-addictive, severe-yet-wacky writing style is flavored with an artistic tone that uses almost surgical colors to leave a singular, emotive impression that is nothing short of indelible.
It comes as absolutely zero surprise that this book was recently nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series, as well as a Best Writer nod for the inimitable Jonathan Hickman. However, both Nick Pitarra and Jordie Bellaire’s being left out of individual Eisner noms for their artistic contributions to comics in general, via this book specifically, is ludicrous.
In any event, while this issue explores the story of how Daghlian became organ-bereft and fleshless, it also charts a new, yet characteristically sweeping and strange course for the series. In victory, it seems, The Manhattan Projects are no less aggressive. The cannibalistically schizophrenic Dr. Joseph Oppenheimer expands on his fellow mad scientists’ schemes involving “rockets,” by laying out his three-pronged plot; first to implement a robust space program (Project: Ares), followed by an organized effort to lengthen and improve the human lifespan (Gaia) and finally, a rich and dark ploy to control all energy on Earth (Vulcan).
Oh wait, did I say three-pronged? Cause I meant four, since one of Oppenheimer’s otherwise unseen personalities winks at a hidden project called Charon, whose name (inspired as it is by the mythological ferryman of death) implies further zany fun for our outlandish cast of characters.
Goddammit, this book is good. Hickman’s writing is at once poetic, natural and non sequitur, while Pitarra’s art manages to somehow perfect the combination of intricate and dynamic storytelling, often by showing his range of style on the page. In one scene, for example, he shows Daghlian being ripped apart by the atom, while just beneath this visually visceral dissection, he shows, simple and still, an implement in Daghlian’s ill-fated project, as it quietly sits, stained in the crimson afterbirth of nuclear fire.
Have I already said “Goddammit, this book is good”? Because it is, and that bears almost immediate and often repeating. I’m probably preaching to the choir when it comes to this review of issue #11, but in case you’ve stumbled across this article because, I dunno, you got excited looking for a review of issue #1 and accidentally double-tapped that “1” key, or something, know that your shaky excitement is justified ... unless you have Parkinson’s, which you might want to get checked out.
In all seriousness, The Manhattan Projects continues to be the best thing in comics right now, and more than deserves the industry and comicdom’s accolades, not to mention your undivided attention.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 4/24/13