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March 9, 2012
 

Image Reviews: The Manhattan Projects #1

After their stellar work on The Red Wing, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra are reunited at Image Comics for another alternate history/action romp with The Manhattan Projects! Starring Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves, The Manhattan Projects is an alternate look at what could have been during a real and dangerous time for the world. Set directly in World War II, Hickman and Pitarra look at a fictional reality involving the creation of the atomic bomb, and other secret projects.

The Manhattan Projects #1

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colors: Cris Peter
Letterer: Russ Wooton
Publisher: Image Comics

 

It’s safe to say that Hickman has a deep fascination with alternate realities. The Red Wing dealt deeply with the idea of being able to travel through time and other realities. S.H.I.E.L.D. (Marvel) is a romp through time, involving many intriguing persons from history, and giving a whole fresh new take on their abilities and skills. The Manhattan Projects is no different. Issue #1 introduces us to our main players, and a bit about how they differ from actual history. The caption that Image provides is the best way to describe what you’re going into with this title:

What if the research and development department created to produce the first atomic bomb was a front for a series of other, more unusual, programs? What if the union of a generation’s brightest minds was not a signal for optimism, but foreboding? What if everything… went wrong?

 

The first thing you should notice is that if you look at the title, the “projects” includes an s. In our reality it is known as The Manhattan Project, without the s. In Hickman’s universe, things were not quite as *ahem* simple as the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb was a project that theĀ  masses could deal with, but the ruling powers at the time were involved in far more. Some of the projects were purely scientific, some religious, and some used just for war. It was interesting to see just how creative Hickman can be. The few glimpses readers get at the other projects that the American government was involved in are a testament to that. Hickman really manages to have a great blend between deeply rooted reality and heavy fiction.

Sometimes Hickman’s work can get so caught up in the fictional aspect that it becomes hard to understand the concept behind what he is trying to portray. Other titles, like S.H.I.E.L.D., demanded a second read through just to grasp exactly what is going on. While Hickman’s characters are easy to like and follow, sometimes the science behind the story becomes a little confusing. The Manhattan Projects is perhaps some of Hickman’s most easily decipherable work. While the story is placed in a fairly notable time period, the mystery behind the original Manhattan Project allows for a lot of Hickman’s creativity to flourish. For example, we are immediately introduced to a well known scientist in Robert Oppenheimer. The Oppenheimer line had a bit of a checkered past, and Hickman exploits that by creating an Oppenheimer that is an extremely disturbed individual with a ton of mystery and intrigue.

Nick Pittara is providing his usual great work. His lines add a lot of character to his work. While they are not the cleanest, they add a sense of realism and grit. The scene where Oppenheimer and Groves first meet was done just right; when Groves puts out his for a shake, the background gives a good look at what this man is all about, something you may not have noticed in the previous panels. The battle scenes are always dramatic, with a ton of attention paid to the detail, and each and every character has a fluid motion. Even the nameless soldiers have been given something to do, which really adds to the tension and sense of combat. One of the more confusing aspects of this book was distinguishing between Oppenheimer and his brother, which Pitarra really helped along with just minor detail differences in the faces. Cris Peter also really knocks the colors out of the park. The constant hue and glow during gunfights adds to the whole experience and provides a much less bland environment. As well, she really helps by coloring Oppenheimer and his twin differently, further helping to distinguish between the two.

The list of surprises and creativity packed into this one issue is a lengthy one, providing a very entertaining read. The Hickman/Pitarra combo is known for its escapades through alternate timelines, and The Manhattan Projects is shaping up to be one of their best. Hickman has come forth with one of his most lucid ideas, and that is meant in the nicest way possible. While some of his other stories have been a tad confusing, The Manhattan Projects is incredibly exciting and imaginative. Pitarra only enhances the whole experience by providing his usual first-rate work that just seems to fit with Hickman’s writing. Cris Peter adds some excellent colors that just puts the art at an amazing level. If you enjoy seeing a twist on history, with great art and a ton of creativity, then The Manhattan Projects is for you.

Mike Parente
mike@comicattack.net

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