Tom Gronkowski writes for Bleeding Cool;
Manhattan Projects is the dark mutation of old Popular Science covers come to life. Manhattan Projects #7 (the second single issue after the release of first series’ trade paperback) seems significant because it signals a definite direction for this book that has been lacking in Issues #s 1-6.
For those who have not been reading thus far: The Manhattan Projects (plural) are a covert government program that has culled together some of the world’s greatest minds (Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Wernher von Braun among others) to investigate and ultimately weaponize any and all scientific and occult breakthroughs in the days around World War II. One gets the feeling that their laboratory would be right below the infamous warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and that these are in fact the “top men.”
This issue, while not the series’ finest, proves to be an important one. While the first six issues of the series have been action packed, it’s been a little unclear where this action has been leading—there has been a lot of exposition. The first story arc hints that these great and depraved minds contracted by the government are producing this technology to combat similar programs in the USSR and Japan. However, an extraterrestrial threat has now emerged. And while their respective governments may not agree, the great minds of the world, currently at each others’ throats, discuss what’s more important: Saving their countries from each other or saving the entire world.
Issue #7 opens in Star City, the Russian answer to the Manhattan Projects that looks like an architectural collaboration between the detailed dreamscapes of Windsor McCay and the nightmarish biomechanics of H.R. Geiger.
Here we meet Minister Dmitriy Ustinov, the commander of Star City who is, of course, a floating brain in a robotic suit. Perhaps this book’s greatest strength is that it defies any expectations about its content. The introduction of a disembodied brain as a major character is neither expected, nor surprising at this point. It’s difficult for a comic book to be as unpredictable and surreal as Manhattan Projects and still maintain as much of a satisfying punch on an issue-to-issue basis.
This is what we have come to expect from series writer Jonathan Hickman, whose forte is this brand of retro sci-fi infused with postmodern gravity. The Manhattan Projects expands on ideas and themes that Hickman has previously explored in the excellent S.H.I.E.L.D. series for Marvel, and The Red Wing for Image.
Another great strength of the book -as a whole- that’s particularly on display in this issue is its dark humor: President Truman is most angry that this meeting of the minds is taking place because he has to interrupt his grand masonic sacrifice/orgy in the oval office that includes a kiddie pool full of snakes, a few pineapples, many robed men and, oh yeah, Twinkie the Kid.
This page is executed with great fun by series artist Nick Pitarra, whose work on the this book has made him seem like the working man’s Geof Darrow. His line work and penchant for detail invoke the style of Darrow in projects like Hard Boiled, but his composition adds a much appreciated sense of caricature. Plus, the book comes out on time, which certainly helps.
However, a lack of direction hasn’t hampered this book in the slightest to this point. It’s been an intelligent and fun read and we can only hope that the alien threat adds a new angle to the comic, lifting it up yet another level. We recommend that fans of surreal science fiction with a tether to history check out this book, pronto.
Tom Gronkowski served on the front lines of comic book retail for five years in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a graduate of the University of Chicago, site of the first self sustained nuclear reaction and birthplace of the Manhattan Project.