I’m not sure if this is bad editorial practice, but I feel the need to preface this article by saying that I didn’t hate The Manhattan Projects #17. In fact, once you get to the bottom of my review, you’ll see that I’ve given it a pretty high and healthy score of [SPOILER] 4/5. Thing is, I hold this title and its creators to particular esteem, and as such, can be a bit more scathing. So bear that in mind as you soldier forth. This issue, the collected members of The Manhattan Projects maintain their incarcerated state at the behest of the traitorous Oppenheimer, and are separated and subjected to his torturous search for information on their respective initiatives. However, there may be something even more dangerous than a deranged cannibal scientist hunting our (for lack of a better word) “heroes,” like, for example, the inter-dimensional creature with surprisingly Millennial liberal sensibilities, who also happens to be genetically engineered to be the perfect killing machine.
As the big, blue, unkillable beast makes its way toward his captive captors, leaving in its wake a trail of bodies and shattered social paradigms, we are once again left to wonder when our assorted collective of doppelgänger physicists, irradiated scientists and bloodthirsty military men will finally escape their predicament, not necessarily because we’re waiting on bated breath to find out what happens or how it does (though that is part of it), but because ... well, it’s getting kind of long-in-the-tooth at this point.
Whereas the first couple of arcs and the beginning of The Manhattan Projects were keenly-focused and precise in their weird and wild approach to its, in my view, pretty revolutionary narrative, this issue feels more and more ambulatory and drawn-out, despite, in this case, the “alien monster-versus-bullets” action.
The only significant reveal relates to the purpose and findings of Feynman and Einstein’s aggressive research, and even that feels both transitory and temporary, sort of just passing through to veil the plot in a facsimile of movement rather than real progression.
Speaking of which, there’s something jarring about the voice with which Hickman arms his alien character, not so much in its incongruous nature, but rather its stilted rhythm. Its speech pattern suitably surprises at the outset, but as the issue goes along, it soon feels like too stilted a jumble; an overall aimless device without much purpose other than forced differentiation from others. In many ways, it’s how I feel about this issue in general.
This is one of those rare moments in this otherwise incredible series when Hickman feels too thinly-stretched; like he’s edging a direction that needs to forego its tangential asides and more quickly find its release. It does end well, in a classic bit of Hickman-hewn hilarity, but at the same time, its fun exit line feels too-closely paraphrased from that recent 21 Jump Street remake. Still, in Hickman we trust, and I’m sure this is just another not unheard of hiccup in the life of a book which remains a firm favorite and one I simply hold to a higher standard.
In terms of art, it’s great to see Pitarra (who here appears in a cameo alongside some other creators in easter eggy goodness) not just reaffirm what makes him one of my current highs, but also evolve as an artist. His work in issue 17 is decidedly more crisp and clean. And yet, even with these slight enhancements, Pitarra maintains his singular style, whether in the warped closeups of a deeply-drugged General Groves or the fantastically-portrayed caged defiance of Einstein in the face of a space “monster.”
Once again complementing Pitarra’s art is Bellaire, who as always continues her own instantly-recognizable colors, which alternatively mute and transmute the visual form of The Manhattan Projects into its regular venerable feast.
Issue 17 may not be the best exemplar of this series by not offering much of anything fresh to the story Hickman and Pitarra are telling, but it’s still a solid, if not exactly mind-blowing (despite the four different decapitations), installment to its endlessly consumable misadventure.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Pitarra Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 12/31/13