It says a lot when the lesser evil in a story is nazis. But here we are. To understand and appreciate Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s groundbreaking Image book, The Manhattan Projects,you first need to accept one of its simple truths: There are no good guys. That’s not an indictment on the character of this ragtag group of fascist physicists, cannibalistic psychopaths, identical extra-dimensional copies and undercover alien adversaries, each of whom is obsessed with conquest through scientific discovery, they’re just ... driven.
None of what they do, nor the lengths at which they go to do them, is inherently “evil,” and it’s nothing personal. It’s just Science ... and Science is fucking ruthless. Oh sure, this book’s pages have previously been tattooed with “Science Bad,” but we all know better. In Science, there is no such thing as “bad,” simply means and ends; universal constants. And one such constant, perhaps ironically, is this: “The Manhattan Projects. Good.” Again, that’s not an opinion, it’s just Science.
If you’ve been checking out Hickman’s mainstream stuff, likeNew Avengers or Avengers (Original Recipe), but have any lingering question as to the level of his narrative craftsmanship, I suggest you open Manhattan Projects #12 and remove all doubt. In it, the creative team has once again proven adept at sequential art swordplay. The feints in issue 11, which danced disarmingly around the relationship between the irradiated skeleton of Harry Daghlian and the alien in the shape of Enrico Fermi, are here transformed, almost from the first page, into vicious thrusts and parries.
Like every single character to ever grace these pages, Enrico Fermi is not what he appears, and not just because he’s an alien. Last issue, we discovered that he has been living amongst humans for years, with only Daghlian sharing his secret. In issue 12, we discover his origins as a sentient alien drone, and how he came to Earth, finding and replacing the real Enrico Fermi as a young child.
Most importantly of all, we learn why he is here and what he has done to facilitate those plans since his arrival. If you can’t tell from the ominous tone I’ve been subtly pelting you with, those reasons are not exactly in line with the mandate of the eponymous Manhattan Projects, a fact he illustrates throughout the issue ... with particular vim.
The Manhattan Projects is, without question or equal, the most deftly-layered story on the market today, and its twelfth issue exemplifies exactly why that is by ripping asunder everything we were led to believe in its preceding issue while maintaining, if not enhancing, the overall integrity of the narrative. Every time you think you know what’s going on in this book, Hickman pulls out a stiletto and jabs it in the jugular, looking at you in the eyes as the body you’d just been hugging drops to the floor.
He forces you to live moments repeatedly, using the comic book form to present them in new, edifying ways. And yet, as serious as he can be in rewriting this story almost as soon as it develops, there is still this inescapable sense of fun, as we play alongside some of the most devilish monsters throughout history and myth.
The only person I could conceive of drawing this book is Nick Pitarra. I apologize for the continued fawning, but this guy’s stuff is simply first rate, and adds yet another dimension to this story as a whole, again proving the unique powers of the comic book form.
There’s just something palpable about his pounded meat, grown-up Rugrats style that completely encapsulates the gristly sort of fun Hickman has created in this story. His visual characterization of each member of The Projects in that last panel, for example, is nothing short of sublime.
In short, you need to believe the hype around this book. I’m not being hyperbolical when I say that The Manhattan Projects is quite possibly the most original, completely engrossing non-superhero comic book series I have ever read, and if you’re not reading it, there is something fundamentally wrong with you at the subatomic level.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: 6/12/13