I’m not sure what to make of The Manhattan Projects #22. Like, literally, I don’t really get what’s going on in it, not because I don’t understand it (that would be a cop-out), but because it’s rushed, unfinished and without its usual substantial narrative meat. This issue feels like it skipped over some pretty integral parts of the story, or like Hickman somehow forgot to put his tell-tale “THEN” and “NOW” disambiguation titles to denote past and present. It’s like we’ve all been thrust into the future of this book without warning. Oh sure, we get plenty of exposition of things to come, but that’s not enough to save the issue from floundering (a trend I’ve noticed in the latter part of this series), nor me from finally admitting defeat and giving up on The Manhattan Projects, at least from a review perspective. I guess its ongoing war has finally left me cold.
The plot of issue 22 is simple enough, but it’s almost cliché for the series, which has seen almost the exact same thing happen before on multiple occasions. As the Soviet Union’s answer to (and collaborators with) the Manhattan Projects, Star City, falls under its own insidious alien siege, the Projects themselves come under new management and governmental scrutiny, such that they basically disband and, for the most part, go their separate ways - some into space and others to parallel dimensions.
Using Feynman as his narrator for most of this exposition-leaden issue, Hickman has some amazing concept-rich dialogue here, what with all the “liberty-based algorithms,” “Atomic Messiahs” and the good doctor’s other usually entertaining musings, but those great moments unfortunately do not culminate in an equally rewarding narrative.
Honestly, I feel like I’ve missed something going into this issue, story-wise. Whereas before it seemed to jump between its high concepts with reckless abandon while maintaining a measurable endgame, now this story feels aimless, struggling to tread water in a pool of very original but ultimately unused ideas. It’s hard to admit, but I think The Manhattan Projects is finally starting to drown in itself, and that’s just not something I want to stick around and report.
Luckily, there are about 20 issues of truly great stories throughout the run thus far of The Manhattan Projects - those first and second trades especially are things of comic book legend, and I think (or hope) they will be remembered as such. But all good things must come to an end. I do hope that this title can - as it admittedly has before - pull itself up and become the exciting, painstakingly unique book it started out as, but without any more Oppenheimer Civil Wars to right the ship, I don’t know how it will happen.
The only thing this issue didn’t make me stop enjoying was Nick Pitarra’s art, and in fact, he’s the only reason I gave this one a positive score. With every issue he’s a part of - which is to say, most of them - this guy gets better and better. Perhaps even above his skill as a writer, Hickman has a fantastic tendency to work with brilliant artists and elicit their A-games, and the same has been true of Pitarra over this series.
Not to say Pitarra was ever “bad,” not even close, but he has become cleaner, leaner, more elegant in his visual approach. His style has always been instantly-recognizable, and regardless of his evolution, that has thankfully not changed - he’s just gotten better. I want to see him on more books, soon hopefully, so he’s not completely typecast with just being the artist on The Manhattan Projects.
Actually, I think it’s time that Hickman and Pitarra both walk away from this series. Maybe they could give it to someone else to play with, or just come to a logical stopping point, because now it feels like The Manhattan Projects is spinning its wheels and it’s a shame to see something that started so great become so dishearteningly stuck.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Pitarra Colors: Jordie Bellaire Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 7/30/14 Format: Ongoing, Print/Digital