The only conventional things about this volume are the challenges its protagonists face. After the crew of the Manhattan Projects reached the stars (and wiped out an alien race in the process), the next step is to consolidate forces on Earth. This means teaming up with their Russian counterparts in Star City and taking out the real people in power behind the scenes of the planet. Including President Truman. Who has to postpone the orgy as a result. Everything else is glorious, demented fun as “The Manhattan Projects” continues with its bizarro approach to the great scientists of the WWII era to show us things we didn’t know we needed.
For instance: I didn’t know before I got to it that I had always wanted to see Albert (well, Albrecht really) Einstein and Richard Feynman pumping bullets into robots controlled by an A.I. modeled after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt onboard a space station. You’ve also got Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and his dog being big damn heroes, seeing the secret leader of the world’s financial markets explode in space, the living brain leading the Russian science program, and seeing firsthand just how non-human Enrico Fermi really is. The series continues to be a fantastic showcase for writer Jonathan Hickman’s off-the-wall imagination and ideas. If it were just them, and Nick Pitarra’s impressively detailed of such, then the price of admission would be satisfied.
However, there’s also the thrill of anticipating the terrible catastrophe that lurks at the heart of this series. Going to the stars and committing genocide, taking on the powers that be, obtaining a blank check for all that they wish to accomplish, it would appear that the cast has it made. Yet this is a team made up of a psychotic cannibal, an alternate-reality doppleganger who is merely “smart,” a war criminal, and overseen by a military man who only cares about the results he gets. That there will be a reckoning for all involved is not in doubt. It’s just a matter of seeing whether or not said reckoning will involve the universe being cracked in half as a consequence of that.
The feeling I get here is akin to the character drama of “Scalped,” where things kept getting worse and worse for everyone in the cast. It eventually got to a point where their suffering transcended my depression and I started to anticipate the fresh hell that they’d encounter with each volume. It’s like that here, only it’s looking increasingly likely that worlds will wind up being shattered as peoples lives go down the crapper.
What lives they are, too! Hickman continues to add to the cast here, with one Helmutt Grottrup getting the most face time as, like Wernher Von Braun, he’s rocket scientist from Germany as well. Only he has the misfortune to wind up with the Russians rather than the Americans. He then proceeds to spend the rest of the volume suffering the worst kinds of indignities, all to prove that it’s some people’s lot in life to suffer such. As for the rest of the cast, they remain much as they are, though Feynman gets a very intriguing scene at the end of the fourth chapter. He was portrayed as something of a simpleton in human interaction previously but also positioned as the potential moral center of the group given his upbringing and utter lack of guile. That’s not the case here as we may be witnessing a firsthand “seduction of the innocent” in the coming volumes.
Then there’s Joseph Oppenheimer, who continues to be simultaneously the most disturbing and exciting of the cast members. There’s just so much going on in his head that he can’t not be. Particularly after we find out what has happened to his brother Robert. It’s that story that closes out this volume and leaves us with some incredibly tantalizing final words, “...and then the Oppenheimer civil war began.” You’ll have to read the story to get the full impact of those words, but I can assure you that’s an experience you’ll want to have. “The Manhattan Projects” is still one of the best titles out there and I can’t wait for the next volume in July, cliffhanger and all.