Hey, sports fans! It’s me, Steve, reporting from the depths of my beard. Also, I’m in Turkey or something crazy, so I’m using Nick as my mouthpiece, and he is typing what I’m reviewing in a spectrally-induced haze, from which he will awake with no memory, only a vague sense of regret. Anyway, Manhattan Projects! I/we can’t even begin to summarize what’s going on here. So there’s that. Almost none of the core cast shows up, which is irksome, but not entirely unexpected; this issue takes the time to introduce cowboy vice president Lyndon Baines Johnson, so if you’re looking for Einstein, Evil Einstein, Feynman, Gagarin, or even Oppenheimer, you’re in for some disappointment. I/we think I/we spotted a federal agent who’s supposed to be Hickman, though. Also, the stunning comics debut of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. I/we do love that this issue opens up the East v. West aspects of Manhattan Projects to the satellite Soviet properties like Cuba. It should be interesting from here on out, as it always it.
One of the places that Manhattan Projects really suffers for me/us is the month-to-month format. I/we love watching the trajectory of these characters, but with the necessary decompression of a month between each issue, I/we get a lot of time to forget all the bonkers-batshit-nuts things that happened last time around. For example, in this issue Groves and Westmoreland are allies. I/we vaguely have a sense that that happened in the past, but I/we basically have to take it on faith until the trade comes out or until I/we can be bothered to open my previous issues. I/we know it’s a total white person complaint, but part of the allure of a monthly comic book is the anticipation for the movement of a plot when the next installment comes out, and with Manhattan Projects, shit got so crazy so long ago that that’s impossible to track anymore.
Luckily, the other part of this issue that is super easy to track is Nick Pitarra getting a canvas to do whatever the hell he wants. The way Ryan Browne gets to draw whatever he wants in God Hates Astronauts, it feels like that’s the freedom that Jonathan Hickman is giving Pitarra here. “You wanna draw JFK living in an inflatable princess castle in the White House, surrounded by hookers and drug paraphernalia?... Go for it.” Where East of West feels very much like Hickman intricately plotting things and guiding Nick Dragotta where to take things, Manhattan Projects is beginning to feel more like a fun excursion for Hickman, where he asks what Pitarra wants to draw and delivers. It’s not un-fun to watch, it just feels unfocused.
Steve/I was displeased with last month’s issue, as it felt like a retread of things that have come before. This issue didn’t feel so much like a retread to me/us, but it certainly didn’t feel as inspired as some of the issues before the end of the Oppenheimer Civil War. I/we don’t fault Hickman for letting a series slide, since with as many books as he has on his plate, I/we can only imagine it’s only a matter of time before one of those plates falls (if you pardon a slightly mixed metaphor). I/we just wish it wasn’t this one that was going to suffer.
Also thank you for putting up with my extended joke about being Steve’s extended persona, it was an honor, and I’d like to thank my parents, god, and Richard Belzer from Law & Order: SVU.
Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Pitarra Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.50 Release Date: 8/27/14 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital