When I began reading The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars #2, I felt a similar pang of misgiving that I did with its first issue; that is, that this segue doesn’t feel emboldened with the same narrative chutzpah as did its progenitor series. But about halfway through, I had an epiphany, one that has actually helped me appreciate this admittedly delay-plagued, but generally entertaining build. If The Manhattan Projects is Hickman and Pitarra’s answer to the Nuclear Science Avengers, then the crew in TSBTS is most definitely their Guardians of the Galaxy. Think about it: there’s an anthropomorphic badass furry thing with anger issues, a semi-clueless star-crossed human adventurer (Czar Lord?), a weird-looking Pokemon creature that only says one thing (which somehow everyone understands) and a smattering of generally untrustworthy aliens. Huh, I guess that also sums up Star Wars. But you get my point. Of course, it doesn’t feel like a direct swipe, such that this sequel is completely devoid of originality, but it may make some readers feel a bit too comfortable with its setup.
Speaking of which, the ongoing plot of TSBTS this time evolves into a perilous, quasi-failed heist, with our regular crew agreeing to help a former slave get vengeance upon the race he once called masters; at least, that’s what he wants them to believe. Along the way, we get an audience with a seemingly nefarious alien overseer, a motley crew with all The Right Stuff as they plot and posture, a fun (and genre-standard) mid-corridor firefight, a full-sized human-dog muppet wielding a hammer and sickle to deadly ends, and of course, a blatant abuse of space justice.
And as a story... it’s fine. Not great, definitely not terrible. But fine. It’s still kind of sad to see The Manhattan Projects - one of my favorite launches in years, and still my go-to recommendation for new readers - spiraling into something of a nondescript space adventure comic (the like of which there are countless others these days), but for what it is, it’s a fun little ride. Still, this doesn’t feel like Hickman in the slightest; even “zany” Hickman. The writing is serviceable, but you definitely get the feeling that it remains an afterthought amidst the writer’s other ongoing ventures. The art, on the other hand, remains the series’ sole standout feature.
Nick Pitarra needs to be on more books, and I’m not entirely sure why he’s not. One look at his Twitter feed (which you should check out for many reasons), and you’ll see that his commission work and sketches prove the versatility within his style. Why he hasn’t been tapped to be on, like, a TMNT book or some or another madcap superhero romp at one of the Big Two (put him on a Bizarro book) is genuinely beyond me. Somebody please hire this guy for more work, and I mean for more than variant covers (which are always great, but still...).
His art, particularly in the absence of Hickman’s more imaginative masterstrokes, is the reason I’m staying aboard the Manhattan Projects ship. The immediately recognizable style employed in his character designs make them at once feel invitingly fresh, yet familiar; indeed, alien, but invitingly so. And I love both the detail and menace he is able to convey through what is, at least ostensibly, a “cartoony” style.
Adding to the presentation and eye-popping visual narrative this time are the ever-electric colors of the literally brilliant Michael Garland, whose work first captivated me personally during his run on Boom’s Deathmatch. In fact, with respect to the series’ regular colorist, it’s never looked better! So kudos to the entire visual creative team for maintaining, even in a relative dearth of storytelling, a strong illustrative presence.
I’d be remiss in not mentioning the elephant in the room when reviewing this book; that is, that the last issue of The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars came out four months ago. I’m not sure who or what is to blame for that, whether it’s Hickman’s being so deeply entrenched with Secret Wars (the staggering delays on his other Image titles suggest this), Pitarra needing extra time to get back into the swing of things, or because Garland was a sudden or unexpected substitution.
Ours is but to wonder, unfortunately, but the delay isn’t doing this book any favors. And while it remains in its middle-of-the-road malaise as a total package, its art is simply too good, and too one-of-a-kind, for me to pass up. At least for now.
The Manhattan Projects - The Sun Beyond the Stars #2 Writer: Jonathan Hickman Artist: Nick Pitarra Colors: Michael Garland Publisher: Image Comics Cover Price: $3.50 Release Date: 7/29/15 Format: Ongoing; Digital/Print