Comics

Broken, Over Time: "The Manhattan Projects #13"

Troy Wheatley

With its 13th issue, Jonathan Hickman's The Manhattan Projects underlines its initial formulation of being less about broken science and more about broken history.


The Manhattan Projects #13

Publisher: Image
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Jonathan Hickman, Nick Pitarra
Price: $3.99
Publication Date: 2013-10
Amazon

There are strains of science fiction that are primarily concerned with cold, hard science, where there are lengthy passages that seem like they aspire to be mistaken for excerpts from a Stephen Hawking book, or--perhaps more correctly given the populist nature of Professor Hawking’s most well-known works--mistaken for an excerpt of an article that could conceivably share space next to Hawking in an Oxbridge journal. The type of fiction that talks about ‘allotropes’, ‘isometric structures’ and ‘valency,’ not to imply that these words are used in a meaningless way, but to point out that this is the type of fiction where the ‘science’ is paramount. The kind that lays out the explanations for its phenomena in a manner designed to assure the reader that the subjects of discussion are testable and can be replicated, that thorough, reliable, well-documented research underpins the otherwise fantastical occurrences.

And then there are the strains that are concerned not with the science itself, but rather the philosophy of science. While certainly not ignorant to the body of scientific knowledge, nor averse to borrowing its language, the exact workings of the phenomena they utilise are of less interest than the broad, sweeping implications of those phenomena; in particular the ethical, historical, existential, and yes, the emotional implications of the progress of human knowledge. This type of fiction may often, though not necessarily, have a message underlying its use of scientific concepts and their consequences, but in other cases we as readers are not being asked to judge, but simply to consider, to contemplate, to speculate what they entail for us as a species. And sometimes they are just used to create a rollicking good read.

The Manhattan Projects, Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s sinister alternate take on some of the 20th century’s greatest scientific figures, initially seems like it would fit into the former category of science fiction, but it has become increasingly clear that it fits into the latter. In this issue, there are scenes of an incisive autopsy of an alien organism, the launching of a proto-rocket ship, and the revelation of an extraordinarily powerful ‘new’ energy source. But the details of how these all work are barely touched upon; instead, each scene serves as a dialogue between the ethical and historical implications of scientific discovery and power. Hickman’s book of ‘bad science’ is less about a science gone wrong than a history gone wrong, the seemingly ‘natural’ course of our own history being knocked off course and twisted into a perverse, sneering reflection.

Further, The Manhattan Projects is less about the science itself than the characters behind the science. Hickman and Pitarra revel in the great and terrible ensemble cast they have assembled, both in their gathering for the funeral on the splash page that opens the issue, and the regular headshots of the cast that close each comic. Pitarra has warped these famous, formerly nonthreatening figures into veritable fiends, almost all sneers and scowls and perpetually lowered eyebrows. Reinforcing my earlier point, Pitarra’s art is less concerned with the details of the technology it depicts than in making sure it leaves a strong, unsettling impression in the reader’s mind. For all of its grand pronouncements about human potential, progress and exploration, the main hook of this series is still watching these old guys from history books behave really, really badly. Which is not to say that The Manhattan Projects is an inhuman pleasure--I challenge you to find too many more moving comicbook moments this year than Laika the dog’s departure in this issue--but anyone that has a cast-iron requirement for likability in their characters is probably better advised picking up Hawkeye or flicking on some episodes of Community.

As for the ensemble cast, it could be argued that the structure of The Manhattan Projects, and particularly this issue, is more akin to the episodic nature of television than any comic series since Alan Moore and Gene Ha’s Top 10. The funeral scene aside, no character appears in more than one scene within these 20-odd pages. Jordie Bellaire’s colors also emphasise this episodic nature, each scene drawing from a limited, but unique color palette--red for Daghlian’s scene to bring out his demonic aspect, brown and navy blue in Gagarin and Laika’s scene to capture the emptiness that lies ahead for both of them (Gagarin’s ‘goldfish’ quip notwithstanding). The issue ends with the series’ nominal protagonist--Joseph Oppenheimer--but his scene is almost a postscript to its events, albeit a foreboding prelude of what is to come.

The Manhattan Projects is now entering the period beyond the point where its initial shock and novelty (an issue faced by most comicbook series incidentally--I call it the ‘Twelve Issue Theory’) will start to hold less currency with a readership faced with more choices than ever. Hickman seems unlikely to run out of ideas--witness his faintly ridiculous ‘End Prelude’ pronouncement following his seventeenth issue of ‘Avengers’ this past week--but the pace at which he trots them out is going to be crucial over the next year in determining whether readers will stick with this series for the long haul. At present, there seems to be enough deliciously evil happenings coming up soon to keep the audience glued to this lovingly-designed multi-car pile-up of a story. Science bad? You bet, but also still so very, very good.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image