THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

hitler takes a walk

IMG_6488Jonathan Hickman is responsible for some of the oddest political and/or history-based comics out there.  He’s the one who turned Galileo and Isaac Newton into SHIELD agents.  He has spun issues of media panic, the ethics of scientific progress, and explored the philosophical implications of genocide in books like Nightly News, East of West, and Transhuman.  There’s no question that he’s a “thinking person’s” comic book writer.

The Manhattan Projects, written by Hickman and brilliantly illustrated by Nick Pitarra, has a fairly simple premise:  What if the atom bomb was just one of the projects created by Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer and the rest of the famous brain trust assembled by the U.S. military during World War 2?  What if all those geniuses had deeper projects with greater reach and more devastating potential?  And what if they really ran the country and the President was just…A kind of sick, crazy nut?

This is the kind of book that could easily have just been gimmicky, or too politically left wing to be anything more than ridiculous conspiracy theory nonsense.  But it isn’t.  Yeah, Hickman takes many digs at the military-industrial complex–including a cheap shot against General Westmoreland…

westmoreland ear necklace

…But it’s more satire than commentary (I think).  Nobody believes that Kennedy’s Oval Office was full of womens’ panties and cocaine.  Nobody believes that high ranking military officials actually collected ear necklaces and wore them proudly in public–or even endorsed that practice.  Or that President Roosevelt did this…

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At least I hope nobody believes that.  Anyway, the book also has complex sci-fi themes and each of the MP geniuses has a special quirk–I won’t reveal them because part of the fun of this book is the ride learning about each character.

The main problem with Hickman’s stuff is that’s almost too smart.  Sometimes that can translate into something that lacks…Passion.  His current Infinity event, for example, is an interesting read: The first true “war” book told on a cosmic level.  But the stakes feel … low, because there’s no real entry point for the story; no one character to feel for or worry about.  This isn’t always true of his writing–he handled the death of Johnny Storm with pathos–but it’s something that often deters me from reading his work.

Take this panel:

manhattan projecrts

This is an “action scene,” but the characters are explaining it and, in so doing, making it…Sterile.  But that works for this comic.  Unlike action-based books, this is a book about the triumph of genius over battle.  How the thinking people can defeat greater military might.

I highly recommend this book.

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