What if the Manhattan Project had been just a front? What if it hid a whole host of more unusual projects that were better left unknown? What if everything went wrong? These are the questions that are answered in the pages of The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra.
I will admit that I did some eye-rolling when I picked up this book. I have not read the previous issues and had my doubts that I would be able to jump right in and enjoy it. I am a geek and seeing Enrico Fermi and Oppenheimer as characters in a comic certainly plays hard on those heart strings but I had no clue what direction it would take me.
Fuck, this was a good book!
This issues deals with Enrico Fermi, Harry Daghlian, and the success of the Manhattan Projects. The book opens with a conversation between Fermi and Daghlian about food. It quickly goes off the rails to a broader discussion about efficiency versus abundance. After wheeling about these philosophical heights, it is brought back to reality with the point that Daghlian just wants some ice cream. Hell, he even calls Fermi an ass for being so long winded and off topic when he just wants some food. Funny and poignant all at the same time.
This issue looks at these two characters both in the past and the future. We get to see how Daghlian became a radioactive skull and his relationship with Fermi.
Despite the super science and weirdness that goes on it stills stay ground in the humanity of the characters. While showing us what happened to Daghlian, Hickman talks about love and fear as universal constants and how despite this they are no match for the atom. On the page it is handle with such simple elegance. Just a few small boxes in the corner of each panel adding dramatic weight to these powerful words. We are given a glimpse of how their friendship formed while Daghlian adjusted to his new state of being. His friendship with Fermi frees him being a prisoner in a small concrete cell to someone that can go out and interact almost like normal. Once again, a very human moment showing the power of friendship among the super-science weirdness that is the Manhattan Projects.
Hickman’s writing is just fantastic on this issue. He juggles the human elements of friendship, love, and fear in perfect timing with questions of ethics, science, and progress. Where one would think these would be difficult topics to blend, he does it with skill and panache.
Nick Pitarra’s art is a perfect complement to the story as well. The idea of scientist laboring in secret conjures up images in my mind and Pitarra’s pencils actually match that image well. The spaces that characters occupy are grand and filled with wonder. The characters themselves are rumpled and weird yet still believable. The panel that captured it best this issue was when our main character step into the meeting on the tranquility base. The backdrop is the surface of the moon with the earth looming large in space. The foreground are all the people taking part in the meeting. The character range from an ordinary gentleman in jeans and a t shirt to a cosmonaut in full suit and a brain in a jar for all intents and purposes. It comes across as both awe-inspiring and ordinary at the same time which, for me, is wonderful.
I loved this issue and look forward the next installment!