What if... the creation of the first atomic bomb was a front for something bigger, something darker?
What if... some of history's greatest minds didn't inspire innovation and optimism, but brought about the potential for death and destruction?
What if... polarizing Marvel mastermind Jonathan Hickman reunited with his collaborator on last year's hit The Red Wing, and up-and-coming artist Nick Pitarra?
No longer will we need to wait for the answer to those questions, because welcome to the dark alt-sci-fi-history of -- The Manhattan Projects.
This first issue focuses on the introduction of Dr. Oppenheimer to the Manhattan Projects. His boss and tour guide for this journey is General Groves, the over the top general who is in charge of the operation. Although a bit stereotypical, Hickman's dialogue and Pitarra's depiction of Groves leave me with the feeling that he's not just following orders, but has a genuine love for the project. He's the stand out character in this issues and also delivers on some truly laugh out loud dialogue.
We continue the tour with just a a glimpse of what the Manhattan Projects have truly been up to -- artificial intelligence, pan-dimensional space, mythological weapons brought to reality and other "impossible machines of expansion." The orientation session is quickly interrupted by an attack on the facility by Japanese robot Samurai delivered via a ballistic pan-dimensional-Zen-gatway powered by Death Buddhists (yeah...you read that right). The attack is quickly fought off, but in the process we start to realize that this Oppenheimer may not be the Oppenheimer we may have assumed. You see, Oppenheimer's orientation is intertwined with his backstory showing us his relationship with his twin brother. We are offered up a the Yin/Yang, Good vs. Evil duality between the twins. Hickman's smart approach to panel design and storytelling really shine, and allow the reader's personal convictions come into play. It's these convictions that make the ending of this story either expected....or a bit unnerving.
And, I can't forget we get a glimpse of another "member" of the team, Albert Einstein. Oh Albert, what mysteries lie behind that gaze and all knowing smirk...
This first issue reads like a TV pilot. And like any great TV pilot, will leave you wanting more. Pitarra's art continues to show its potential and really fits the story well. After reading, I can't imagine another artist tackling this. The awesome cover is typical of Hickman's previous clean and iconic cover imagery, and that is a good thing; it's sure to stand out on store shelves.
Stories rooted in alternate history are typically overly detailed and start to feel like 5th grade social studies, or are so light that it leaves your wondering what's the point. Manhattan Projects successfully finds sweet spot of this genre and should not be missed. With the hand-cuffs off, Hickman's smart sci-fi alt-history story has limitless possibilities, and I one will be along for this ride.