It’s been just shy of two months since the last Manhattan Projects dropped, which means the creative team would almost have to give us something big story-wise after such a long wait and an impacting issue last time, right? Well ... no, not exactly. The book opens with lovelorn cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin pining like a good Russian (read: drinking from a bottle of vodka) over his dog, Laika, who we last saw hurtling into the unknown reaches of outer space. From there, we catch up with this issue’s titular “Space Dog” as she is captured and imprisoned by an alien ship before being set free and escaping with her new friends: a pathologically lying robot (UNa) and what appears to be some kind of Pokémon (Rys).
In the process, Laika - already a talking, machine gun-toting Russian dog - undergoes a further startling physical transformation, which should get both practitioners of beastiality and furries all twitterpated. Anthropomorphic dog boobs, man. Shit freaks me out, and is actually one of the reasons I thought this book was probably the worst issue of The Manhattan Projects yet.
I found this to be a pretty straightforward space-faring affair, much more at least than I have come to expect from this usually more narratively exploratory series. But this just felt banal, which I know is weird to say of a story about a dog in space talking to aliens and then transforming into a worryingly feminine canine-lady hybrid, but when compared to the type of mind-bending, esoteric shenanigans we usually get, this was just kind of ... boring, and uncharacteristically trite.
The only reason this really gets a higher score is thanks to the art of regular series contributor, Ryan Browne, who continues to impress every time he checks in to spill some ink on The Manhattan Projects. While far from being indistinguishable from it, Browne’s visual lead always echoes enough of Pitarra’s style in its look that it’s never a rough transition.
He maintains a great concept of how these characters have been conceptualized, but here is given a chance to play to his strengths; in this case, a freer reign to improvise, with a huge amount of weird-looking aliens and otherworldly tech to play with at leisure. If that’s not the bread and butter for the writer/artist of Image’s other madcap crew book, God Hates Astronauts (the ongoing series of which we get a tease of after this issue), I don’t know what is! Speaking of which, it was nice to get a little cameo from GHA’s Admiral Tiger Eating a Cheeseburger in one of the aliens’ energy cells. Good show!
In the end, while it was nice to catch back up with Laika, The Manhattan Projects#21 failed to present an adventure worthy of the series as a whole, with a story that felt a bit narratively phoned-in. Usually it rides the line between not taking itself seriously and offering noteworthy character and story moments, but this issue failed to meet the high standards already set, and while it wasn’t “bad,” it was far from exceptional, which is disappointment enough.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Ryan Browne Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 6/18/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital