Everyone, no matter how intelligent or powerful, is entitled to a bad day. This includes evil dimensional doppelgängers, forlorn cosmonauts, disembodied brains, irradiated skeletons, Russian space dogs, Richard Feynman and even iconic comic book writers, all of whom are sharing an “off day” in Manhattan Projects #14. Let the record show and stand that I remain a big fan of what Hickman and Pitarra have done thus far with this title. In fact, it’s one of my favorite series on the market today, which means that, for better or worse, I hold it to a higher standard. While this latest serving from the team did sate my monthly MP hunger pangs, its flavor was a bit wanting this time around, more tepid than the piping-hot comic goodness that I’ve come to love throughout its run.
The story sees an irresistible, methodical dismantling of The Projects, who are each caught completely flatfooted by a new, brutally efficient inside player. The fall of this infinitely odd little team has been a long time coming, almost from its inception, and while things do tend to happen fast and furiously in this book, and I normally enjoy its almost clinical approach to combat, this just felt a bit rushed and half-hearted, with a victory (however temporary) that perhaps didn’t feel as earned as it should have.
I get that the boys were caught with their respective pants and/or containment suit bottoms down, but it kinda came out of nowhere and felt phoned-in, bereft of the poetic weight in issues previous. Usually after reading The Manhattan Projects, I have to stop two or three times, just to digest a bit of dialogue here, a beautifully-lain panel there; but this time, nothing really popped out; this includes the surprise ending, the payoff of which was more confusing and muted than what I think the team was hoping for.
Now, first of all - and call me a Hickman apologist if you like - but I mean, the guy is on ... I don’t know how many books right now, one of which is the core of Marvel’s biggest event of the year, and a few others, which revolve significantly around it. So I’m sure he’s feeling tapped, but I’m just sorry to see that it seems to be affecting this title, or at very least this issue.
The overall effort this time around mirrors the lethargic, running-on-empty reactions of the titular team as they get picked off without a fight. Whereas their mysterious and nefarious plans felt delicate and well-trained before, here they felt barely touched-upon and aimless.
Most of the art this issue is the usual fantastic stuff from Pitarra, but there are a few unusually bare spots in issue 14’s otherwise lush foliage, which to be honest doesn’t help its relatively more prosaic tone. Don’t get me wrong, some pages are absolutely beautiful - the massive and ominous ship, the dozens of weird little things in jars at Project Gaia, the particularly stand-out steam room scene and anything with the red Oppenheimer schizofriends - but elsewhere, the backgrounds feel more sparse, the characters sometimes less-defined. Like the writing, it’s still quite good, but just not befitting the mind-boggling stuff that has preceded it.
I think this marks the first time that I haven’t given The Manhattan Projects a 5 out of 5, but don’t take that to mean that I am any less enamored with the title as a whole. It continues to be one of the most unique books you’ll ever read and if I know Hickman and Pitarra, there are some great things coming around this slightly divergent, marginally more sloping bend.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Pitarra Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 9/11/13