REVIEW: The Manhattan Projects #7

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What do Dr. Doom, Batman, Bruce Banner and Wile E. Coyote all have in common? All are super-geniuses. In fact, you can’t throw a rock in a comic book city without hitting a super-genius. But while there are no supermen in real life there have been some super-geniuses. One of the highest concentrations of mega-brainpower was in Los Alamos, working on the Manhattan Project. What if the accumulated brains were not just harnessed to building the atomic bomb, but were directed to much stranger, darker goals? Are you ready to let your inner conspiracy theorist run wild? Find out after the jump.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #7
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Pitarra
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image
Cover Price: $3.50

Previously in The Manhattan Projects: In an alternate history, the Manhattan Project that created the atomic bomb in WWII is a much larger program involving superscience. It’s a bit like Atomic Robo except everyone is crazy and more than a little evil. Oppenheimer is a schizophrenic cannibal. Werner von Braun is a bully with a robotic arm. And Einstein is a scheming doppelganger from another dimension. Now that the war is over, the American scientists have met and killed an alien race that intended to conquer humanity, but in doing so discovered that there are several other alien civilizations that would be more than happy to take sweep in to invade the Earth for themselves.

MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON

There’s not a lot of action in this issue. Instead it sets up a new status quo where the American scientists forge an alliance with their Soviet counterparts to abandon their subservience to their respective governments to follow the “greater good” of fighting off the aliens. In doing so, we also get to see several interactions between the characters, demonstrating their insanities and setting up the tensions within the teams that will threaten to cause more damage than the alien armadas.

If you don’t want to read about unpleasant characters then you’ve come to the wrong place. Otherwise, this book is an intricate, discordant symphony of every kind of crazy you can imagine. And I will guarantee that even the most jaded, in-the-know reader will be surprised by what happens. When I mention that Twinkie the Kid is seen in a Presidential orgy, I am underselling how weird this book is.

Back when I read the first issue, I was afraid that Manhattan Projects was going to be weird just for the sake of being weird. As the series continued, I was pleased to discover that the crazy characters were still good characters, each following their own crazy motivations and staying true to their disturbing selves. These are not anti-heroes in the Wolverine or Twilight sense—“Oh, I’m so troubled. I do bad things, but I’d never do them to you.” These are villains that you feel dirty for rooting for, but sometimes you will anyway. (Richard Feynman may not be a psychopath, but I get the feeling that Hickman is just getting our hopes up and will reveal some freaky psychoses there as well.)

There’s also more than a little reflection in the story on the nature of power, a topic that Hickman has deal with more deeply in The Nightly News and Pax Romana. In my reading of The Manhattan Projects, Hickman starts with the question of whether the smartest people should rule the rest (a reasonable idea on its face) but then shows that intelligence is not the ultimate test of fitness. Of course, I don’t think there has been a single character shown so far to be trustworthy, so maybe Hickman is being even more cynical than I give him credit for.

THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN

I like the art but you might not. It’s that kind of art. When I first saw it, I thought “irregular”, “caricature”, and maybe even “sloppy”. But it’s definitely not sloppy, although it may be safely described as slightly grotesque. It’s an odd style that is cartoony, but like those comics in the independent newspapers (do they still have those?), not like in the funnies in your daily newspaper (do they still have those?). And as weird as the character designs are, they are drawn consistently on-model. The style is purposeful and well-crafted. It reflects and emphasizes the insanity and often horror of the setting and situations and in the end is a force-multiplier for the writing.

All that said, some of you will not care for it. It fits and supports the story, but no one will say that it’s just a joy to look at. You’ll probably know it in a few pages, and if that’s the case you will be able to move back to more conventional comics. And you’re life will be the poorer for it.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Wolf it down, come back for more

I give The Manhattan Projects #7 four stars. If your idea of pushing the envelope is a guy in tights punching racism, Marvel or DC will be happy to help you. That’s fine. I read those, too. But if you wish that your history professor was on acid during lectures, then this is the mind#%$^ for you.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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