Comics and World War II alternate history have long gone hand in hand. From the Hitler punching shenanigans of Captain America to Project Ragna Rok of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy universe, the 1940s are a goldmine of potential for the imaginative writer. Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra follow in this proud tradition to bring a truly harrowing, whacked-out and unexpectedly hilarious jaunt into an alternate 1940s America in the ongoing series Manhattan Projects, published by Image Comics.
Manhattan Projects operates under the premise that the development of the atomic bomb was simply a public cover for an array of much more bizarre and ethically questionable scientific endeavours, collectively known as the Manhattan Projects. And by bizarre, I mean recovering weapons from alternate dimensions, liaising with aliens and turning the deceased President Roosevelt into an advanced AI. The book features an all-star roster of the Manhattan Project scientists, each playfully altered by Hickman to be visually individual and tremendously flawed. Einstein is a brooding drunk; Fermi is some sort of alien; Daghlian is a radioactive skeleton; Feynman is stuck up, and Oppenheimer suffers from multiple personality disorder.
The book’s tone is deathly serious with little humour to be found in the dialogue itself. Ironically this adds a level of hilarity that can only come from seeing some of history’s greatest scientific minds talking about reverse engineering a Japanese zen powered teleporter (with the zen provided by a dedicated team of ‘Death Buddhists’) with straight faces.
Admittedly Pitarra’s art took me a little time to warm to. His scraggly and lean human figures and restricted colour pallet aren’t the usual comic book fare, but once you get used to his style it becomes apparent he was the perfect choice for art duties. His frail human figures and dull colour scheme complement the story perfectly and this book showcases some top-notch visual storytelling. I often found myself stopping for a couple of minutes just to soak in the amount of detail and artistic balance that flow from Pitarra’s pages.
In short I really cannot recommend this book enough. It is easily a buy and with a relative small cost, it is not a hard purchase to justify.