What does someone do when science takes an unexpected turn and suddenly everything goes wrong? Do they just sit there and wallow in self-pity? No, a true scientist would take what didn’t work from those mistakes, and continue to strive forward in hopes that the experimentation actually goes somewhere. The Manhattan Projects #13 is illustrative of both sides of the equation: Some go into mourning after the disastrous reveal of Enrico Fermi not being who he said he was last month, while others such as (not-)Einstein and Richard Feynman use those mistakes to push forward in some unknown plans. Finally, you have the anomalous factor in the form of Joseph Oppenheimer, whose plans are hinted at but his role still remains that of a wildcard.
Hickman has an uncanny ability to blur the lines between pre-conceived notions of good and evil in The Manhattan Projects, forcing us to ask questions like “Was this action truly bad if its larger purpose is for the greater good?” The Manhattan Projects functions as an alternate history for these people/characters, a what-really-went-on behind the scenes narrative if you will. Given that it’s an alternate history of sorts, Hickman often changes the personality of these scientists in order to fit the larger narrative at work. I’m sure Oppenheimer wasn’t really a crazed lunatic in real life, and that Kennedy wasn’t a coke-snorting fearer of communists and Nazis (although this may be true given some accounts, with the coke thing being an assumption based on previous accounts of his life), but the versions of these people that Hickman uses are brilliant because it works in tandem with the alternate history-shtick. Every character’s role is clearly defined, even if they are never actually good or actually evil.
I want to touch up on the Oppenheimer aspect of the story a little more. Clearly his role at this point is anomalous but not ambiguous. Anybody who reads a Hickman book knows he has pages focused on graphic design using quotes from his characters that foreshadow plot elements to come. Oppenheimer has a quote in this issue (not an actual quote) that goes like “The Earth, the stars, the sun, forever…all of these, in my hands.” This is clearly hinting at some sort of plan to gain some sort of dominance over the cosmos, possibly using the experiment he’s working on at the end as the first stepping stone towards this. Again, not something clearly defined as good or evil just yet but something dangerous in the works, and I fully expect it to come full circle.
Now, judging the comic as an actual issue, it doesn’t do much other than a lot of foreshadowing and a metric ton of build-up towards future stories. But it’s certainly interesting. It works as a piece of character development and a signal towards something apocalyptic in nature. Other than that, not much else goes on. It’s kind of disappointing but expected at this point. Thankfully Nick Pitarra’s art enhances what otherwise would’ve just been an average issue. His penciling and inking has a scraggly quality about it, coming from a school of Doug Mahnke-circa-Seven Soldiers of Victory. Everything looks jagged and crumbly, properly conveying the idea that all of this could collapse at any minute if the circumstances are right. It’s claustrophobic and expertly detailed in its craftsmanship, giving both the foreground and the central focus the proper attention they need. The unique coloring works in conjunction with the pencils to create different kind of moods, and credit goes to colorist Jordie Bellaire for knowing when striking reds, yellows, and blues are appropriate and when standard coloring is needed. A little foresight goes a long way.
Foresight is definitely the key element when it comes to Jonathan Hickman-work. Being able to understand and predict what might happen is half the fun in reading his comics, especially when something you predict turns out right but then an unexpected curveball gets thrown. The Manhattan Projects #13 is all foresight and little plot advancement bolstered by great art, and this is perfectly okay at this point. It leaves the reader guessing as to what may (or may not) happen, and prediction is half the battle.