“And with that, the Oppenheimer Civil War had reached the city.” That sentence alone should, if you’ve been following The Manhattan Projects to any measurable degree, give you about three different kinds of boners, regardless of your gender allocation and/or the anatomical impossibility of that reaction. At least speaking for myself, the ongoing undercurrent saga following the Oppenheimer brothers, Joseph and Robert, which has seen them pitted against each other in armed combat on a collective mindscape after the former ate the latter and absorbed his essence, has been the most engrossing subplot in this already sweepingly-ornate, character-driven story, and I was quite happy to see it brought back to the fore.
Part of that, I believe, is because this is the dynamic in which Hickman plies his trade with the most abandon, whimsy and purpose. This type of introspective storytelling showcases Hickman as epic poet, working with his collaborative artist - this time in the form of Ryan Browne, a worthy and complimentarily-adaptive temporary replacement for series regular, Nicholas Pitarra - to create a story, the depth of which is belied by its nearly two-toned (but by no means muted) visual direction.
This issue follows the disparately-hued factions of each brother’s psyche (Robert’s science-based blue team vs. Joseph’s more fantastical and darkly-inventive reds) in a war for supremacy over what once was Robert’s body, soul and mind: a prize that currently belongs to Joseph, who, as we have seen in the lead-up to this issue, is using all of the above to secure his own mysterious and treacherous ends in the “real” world at the expense of his former colleagues in The Manhattan Projects.
In that, this is a capsule battle version of the greater war that has been echoing throughout this series’ corners since it began: science and math versus mayhem and magic, reason and logic against nightmarish ego and salivating hubris, confined adaptation versus unrestrained assimilation; and it is represented so well here, so originally - at the same time charming and nauseating, but never not entertaining.
A big part of that response is thanks to Hickman’s omniscient narrator, who not only recounts the war like a documentary, but speaks about its survivors (as if there could be such a thing, beyond the remnant facets of a shattered mind), as if they were doomed to relive traumas and tortured memories, which don’t actually exist, for many years hence.
That kind of treatment (giving these non-characters a pseudo-history and presence) makes the old trope of a comic book mental battle seem more fleshed-out, more real and of course, more profoundly ludicrous; in short, it makes it unique, mind-boggling and most importantly, fucking fun.
And by-golly is it gorgeous!
Again Ryan Browne, who is no stranger to the bat-shit crazy, does a phenomenal job of filling in for Pitarra here, both in imitating his style to an at times indistinguishable degree and adding his own subtle touches therein. He and Hickman sync up quite well in their shared conducting of this book, simultaneously juxtaposing yet matching each other as shared moments on the page.
Jordie Bellaire, by far one of the hardest-working and justifiably most celebrated colorists in the industry today, exemplifies in her work what Hickman and Browne do in their art and story. Everything looks so simple, it reads so easily, but it also does so with the gore, presence and depth of something like The Song of Roland: a tale of a great and terrible battle, where both altruistic and ruthless combatants are split in twain and/or pummeled into jelly, all while being narrated in a cadence that resounds in the hushed whisper of a faithful yet grave historian.
As the series has done previously to provide structure and focus, The Manhattan Projects #15 may step away from its main plotting to further shape the Oppenheimer dialectic, but in so doing, it continues to gives us the inane action so singularly recognizable to the series.
This includes, but is not limited to, headless horses charging into battle, equation-spitting and eyeless armies challenging mumbling giants, fire-breathing dragons and demons, an amoebic overarching threat known as Oppenheimer Prime and yet another exciting twist ending that doesn’t just beg questions, it desperately pleads for them.
I am ecstatic that this issue has brought this, one of my favorite modern series, back from the brink with which it flirted last time. In short, The Manhattan Projects is back to form with a wet chomp, and I can’t wait to see how issue 15’s exit wound bleeds out onto the jowls of the main narrative next time.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Ryan Browne Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 10/9/13