Historically speaking, it’s been difficult for the creative team behind The Manhattan Projects to suitably and satisfactorily follow an Oppenheimer Civil War issue with its regular fare, a feat made all the more difficult this time, given that the aforementioned conflagration has finally come to a halt. I am happy to report, however, that Hickman and Pitarra have happily bucked that particular trend this time, because The Manhattan Projects #20 is one hell of a comic book! The entirety of this issue is dedicated to finally finding out what happened to the original Albert Einstein since his “evil” cross-dimensional doppelgänger, Albrecht Einstein, knocked him out and traded places with him on our world pretty early on in the series. For regular fans - hey guys! - this is a moment that has been a long time coming, and I’m ecstatic that Nick and The Hick have given it the breadth of a full issue, because hot damn, was this excellent.
Fact is, there are so many great things about this issue: Albert’s colorful yet harrowingly-told jaunt between dimensions alternatively inspired by Dune, He-Man and M.C. Escher, the fantastic rivalry that developed throughout them (which of course led to the shocking end of last issue) and of course, the quiet nod to the crown jewel in Jean Claude Van Damme’s celebrated body of work.
Back to the point, Albert’s life on and subsequent escape from the magically savage, medieval fantasy alternate earth took the bulk of his story’s retelling, and as you would expect in a section which sees Albert Einstein wielding energy shields and mad-hot kung fu against his enemies, it was spectacular. I’m not sure how many times I’ve looked over that part alone, but if my math checks out ... it’s a lot.
However, I think my favorite part about the story itself isn’t necessarily what Albert went through, but what he does about it in the end. Given the pretty fiery retribution going on all over this book for the past ... ever, you might think he would act as swiftly, and indeed as deadly, as he reappeared.
But the great thing about Albert, Albrecht and everyone else in the Manhattan Projects, is that as quick as they are to respond with ruthless aggression, it is their weaponized use of reason that is more terrifying, not to mention entertaining. When Albert sees his evil twin, he doesn’t see a foe, but rather a unique opportunity, and the stories that are bound to follow with the variant Einsteins promise to be just like the two themselves, which is to say, “gangster as fuck.”
My one gripe with this issue is how peaceful and comfortable all the members of the Projects seem following their ordeal of being imprisoned for so long by a traitor amongst them, and then being hunted by a bloodthirsty inter-dimensional alien beatnik. I guess the point is that life goes on for these guys and, as I celebrated above, nothing really phases them, but this seemed almost too extreme a transition.
What isn’t up for debate is Nick Pitarra’s art this issue. I’ve already grown quite fond of this guy’s immediately-recognizable style, but when he gets a break from it for a month (as he did this time), it always seems like he comes back to bring the freshness.
Joined by Bellaire’s positively gleaming palette this issue, Pitarra absolutely murders each and every single panel in this book, regardless of whether it includes a snake, knife and axe-fueled dungeon fight, or just two parallel versions of the same historic genius sharing a quiet drink. I want Pitarra on more books, forthwith!
I am so happy to see The Manhattan Projects back on track again, with this and last issue leading the charge into what is shaping up to be a very interesting arc indeed.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Pitarra Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 4/23/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital