The Manhattan Projects is a series that has become my immediate go-to for a solid book recommend, especially for those who aren’t into or haven’t experienced the true diversity of contemporary comic booking. In fact, I’ve converted no less than three non-comic book friends on the merits of its story alone, and it continues to be a great example, in my view, of the medium’s high concept and storytelling dynamism. With that said, this newest arc, which sees our motley crew of exaggerated historical scientists imprisoned at the behest of the nefarious Oppenheimer and the vicious, ear necklace-sporting General Westmoreland, has gotten decidedly stagnant.
Now, I don’t mean that nothing has happened; it definitely has. I mean, this issue alone sees a massive brawl between Westmoreland and a jacked-up pan-dimensional murderous alien beatnik, but I think the general’s meticulous “war of attrition” against the Projects has effectively worn this title to a grinding halt. Barring perhaps the last page, which ends the issue on a bit of a cliffhanger (thanks to the [SEMI-SPOILER] murder of one of the most prominent Projects), this book feels like it has become less experimental and more formulaic ... and that blows a bit.
I’m a huge fan of the voice Hickman brings to the bulk of his (especially creator-owned) work, and as I alluded to above, The Manhattan Projects is really what sold me on him as one of the industry’s most unique and fascinating writers. But this thing is in a rut from which it desperately needs to escape, and I continue to live in hope that Hickman isn’t offering this title up as a sacrifice to focus on one of his other 20 books out at the moment.
Unfortunately, given the recent delays and the lackadaisical, unhurried state of affairs with its writing, things aren’t looking good. On the other hand, that last page does add a much-needed dose of intrigue and will hopefully lead back into my favorite tangential subplot of the series in what is a much more insular war between “men.”
While I’m pretty apathetic in regard to the current banality of the writing, the art has never been better! Apart from a few oddly rushed panels early on, this book continues to be a fertile petri dish on which to watch Pitarra’s infectious art grow, and what a phenomenal evolution it has proven to be. I’ve been a big fan of his style since I randomly came across this book a little over a year ago and while he’s had some hiccups along the way, it’s easy to see that Pitarra is taking the risks visually that the story itself has, for the past few issues, eschewed.
While his figure work continues to be refreshingly grotesque, everything else here feels more crisp, with much more assertive line work and a cleaner, less-cluttered approach to texture. Much of this, perhaps, is thanks to Bellaire’s colors; a usual highlight of the book, but one that seems to this time benefit from a particularly vibrant sort of phosphorescence. The palette is bolder, brighter and even in a series with such a visual pop verve, this issue is especially remarkable.
In terms of story, this is far from the best The Manhattan Projects has to offer, at least until the last page. For that, I’d give the book an average 3/5, but the way Bellaire and Pitarra bounce off each other here should not be missed, and if nothing else, gives me hope that one of my favorite books might still have it.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Pitarra Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 2/26/14