Review: The Manhattan Projects #1: The Sun Beyond The Stars
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Pitarra
Fresh from working on titles like Fantastic Four for Marvel, Jonathan Hickman returns to Image with a high-energy historical fiction outing, The Manhattan Projects. The new series sees a new collaboration between Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra; the pair previously worked together on the futuristic time-hopping epic Red Wing from Image. The Manhattan Projects recounts an alternative telling of the story of J Robert Oppenheimer, “the father of the atomic bomb.”
The challenge, of course, is to amplify a non-fictional character and present something bonkers and exciting, which Hickman executes perfectly, telling this warped version of events in two chapters of flashbacks and ‘present day.’ What the reader is presented with in The Manhattan Projects is a vibrant and frenetic story full of aliens, freakish monsters, vengeful retribution from “Justice Librarians of the Siounuu Science Union” and a confused human being named Yuri Gagarin. A cosmonaut imprisoned alongside a menagerie of bizarre creatures, he provides a little normalcy for the reader in a world of space oddities. There is a brilliantly bizarre cliff-hanger that suggests this is a series willing to take risks, which can only be a good thing.
While The Manhattan Projects is full of interesting and odd occurrences and characters, it is hard to say that very much happens; however, it is more likely that this first issue serves as an opportunity for the reader to become accustomed to the universe and plant the seeds for what will surely be an extravagant and ambitious series. The dialogue can be a little dense- especially with the first half’s utilisation of mostly scientific jargon that went over this humble reviewer’s head on a first reading- but this improved when there was more characterisation in the second half, with humorous appearances and one-liners from alien inmates.
Pitarra’s art work is impressive and proves cohesive with Hickman’s extravagant story; his pencilling is clean and his figures are wonderfully grotesque in regards to the rich array of monsters throughout- they are reminiscent of early Nickelodeon cartoons like Aaaargh! Real Monsters- while his long distant shots lack any real detail. On the whole, he captures the essence of this bonkers universe and is successful in techniques like using blue and red to create tonal distinction between perspectives in the first half.
The first issue of The Manhattan Projects is a peculiar and at times challenging read; however, the scope and ambition of such a bold, berserk series is enough to trust that Hickman and Pitarra have plenty of tricks up their sleeves and make this series worth sticking with. Provocative titles like The Manhattan Projects continue Image’s run of off-the-wall indie series that separate themselves from everything else in comics today in their relentless boldness and refreshing quality. When it comes to The Manhattan Projects, the possibilities seem limitless.