I picked up, on a recommendation, The Manhattan Projects, a new illustrated series from Image Comics, written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Nick Pitarra.
Right up front I’ll tell you– I’m not a fan of Pitarra’s art style. Although his scenery is well done, I find his living creatures rough-hewn and ugly.
I thought the colorist, Jordie Bellaire, did a good job. Some of the characters have alter-egos or split personalities, and Bellaire chose to go full-tilt to distinguish them– painting certain personalities (usually the imposters or bad guys) in all red, and the main or true character in all blue. And when I say “all red” or “all blue,” I do mean all– even the faces. It’s a bold choice. I’m can’t say it’s beautiful, but it is audacious, it carries the load, and I applaud the intrepidity.
The story is based on the idea that –as incredible as the U.S. atomic bomb program was– it was actually only a small part of a much bigger, X-files type of situation. Hickman re-imagines famous genius-scientists of that period as monsters, imposters, or immigrants from other universes.
As I’m learning, it is apparently requisite for any series-story to have characters keeping lots of secrets. One of the secrets being kept in The Manhattan Projects, I’ll spill to you… Franklin Delano Roosevelt only SORTA died– his consciousness has been uploaded into a mega-collection of computers.
If that kind of foolin’ around with historical personages amuses you, you may like the story. But don’t expect, as I did, something deeper. There’s not a ton of social or political commentary here, and don’t think, as I did, that several real-world events circa WWII would be explained by only-now-revealed space alien plots or ultra-dimensional cross-pollination. Most of the comedy stays domestic– having its famously named characters interact with each other and the occassional space alien. When the major enemies of early 1940s America show up– the Japanese and the Germans (the Russians come later– we’ve always got to have an enemy)– they are just standard bad guys, low-on-the-bill players to be exterminated with as much blood and guts as possible.
The funniest thing for me is when they go to get Harry Truman to tell him that he’s now President– and they find him in a temple leading a cult of Masons in a blood-sacrifice ritual. I laughed outloud at that one.
The Manhattan Projects is better and smarter than most comics, yet I feel like it could have been more.