Written by: Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Nick Pitarra
Publisher: Image Comics
Another month, another crazy installment of The Manhattan Projects. Jonathan Hickman is a writer who continues to astound readers with the sheer number of crazy ideas he has rattling around inside of his head. Hickman writes so many ongoings currently, both for Image (East of West, The Manhattan Projects, and Secret) and Marvel (Avengers, New Avengers) that it’s a scientific wonder in and of itself that he gets all of them out on time, and they’re all of the highest quality.
The one drawback to all of this scientific zaniness, especially in The Manhattan Projects, is that it can make you feel a bit numb or nonplussed by it all. I’ve come to expect lasers, aliens, betrayal, large amounts of gore, and back room dealings. These, it could be argued, are what make The Manhattan Projects tic. Following the events of the past two issues (Star City is no longer a part of the Manhattan Project) I thought the series would start to branch out into some interesting new places. Lyndon B. Johnson is clearly making some power plays, the generals in charge continue to make uneasy alliances, Laika continues to drift through space somewhere, and Oswald is actually a human taken over by aliens, tasked with keeping John F. Kennedy safe. These few snippets, actually, could serve as a litmus test for whether or not you’ll enjoy this issue at all. While this is certainly not a great place to start reading the series, this issue does act as a bridge between what came before and what will come after.
Speaking of what comes before and what comes after, I was a bit torn at the end of this issue. While I understand that Kennedy’s assassination is an integral part of Hickman’s tale, something that had to be mentioned and dealt with head on as it affects the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, etc., I was not too impressed with the way in which the generals kill JFK. Surprise! Oswald is a lackey (albeit an alien one) and he was set up by our own “heroes” of the Manhattan Project. While Pitarra’s pencils were great, as they consistently are, I wish that the assassination itself had shown a bit more restraint. This is one of the problems with Hickman’s reimagining of history—these were real people, no matter how altered they may be in Hickman’s own private universe. Do we really need yet another image of JFK’s head being blown off, brains everywhere, Jackie O. covered in blood? I liked the quick flashback to Einstein explaining how the “magic” bullet would work, but the resulting chaos left me cold. Stephen King’s recent book, 11/22/63, also re-imagined the assassination of Kennedy (or the lead up to it) with far better results and less gore for gore’s sake.
The Manhattan Projects is usually one of my top 10 books each month, and while I am certainly no prude, I think I’m struggling with having no one to root for anymore in this series. Barbarian Einstein is awesome, as is the infinite Oppenheimer situation, but at some point the whole series started to feel like the atomic bomb itself: explosive, horrifying, and ultimately hard to watch. Perhaps this arc will read better in trade or maybe it’s just time for me to admit that while I loved this series, it’s starting to spin its wheels. I hope I’m wrong, but the cycle of “invent cool stuff, government finds out, kill government agents, run into aliens, invent more cool stuff, repeat” has grown a little stale for me.