The Manhattan Projects is highly critically acclaimed comic series created by Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra. The series began in 2012 and Volume 1 of a hardcover compilation has just been made available from Image Comics.
The storyline begins with a grim past reality, the Manhattan Project of World War II and its devastating end product. Hickman then proceeds to take this dark night of the human soul and, if such a thing is possible, paints it blacker. The tale is that the original Manhattan Project, the construction of the atomic bomb, was just a front for many other forays into science-fiction based experimentation. Mining parallel universes for scarce resources, building multi-mainframe computer systems to resurrect and house the intellect of FDR, space exploration and colonization, and perfecting the use of a trans-dimensional gateway are among these dabblings. There is nothing inherently wrong with most of these projects, except that they are all driven by exploitation and lust for power and greed.
On the political front, things are no better. Russia and the US are not descending into the Cold War, but the common ground is utter corruption. In another, less talented writer’s hands, this story would have never been anything more than a banally depressing fable. Hickman, however, elevates The Manhattan Projects with his deep well of creativity and most especially his incredible characters.
The series is populated with all the main characters of history: e.g. Oppenheimer, Einstein, Feynman, Fermi, Truman, to name a few. They are all recognizable and act in line with their historical personalities, however Hickman has twisted the “evil” dial up a few notches for all of them. Or has he? It is the distorted but oddly familiar reality of the surrealistic painters that Hickman is working with. It feels as through the writing is a cross between Stephen King and Hunter S. Thompson.
And speaking of Hunter S. Thompson, Nick Pitarra’s artwork is, at times, somewhat reminiscent of frequent Thompson-collaborator Ralph Steadman, and it serves as the perfect counterpoint to Hickman’s ideas. The superb coloration and extensive detail demands the full attention of the reader and adds a great deal of depth to the series.