Powerfully understated in both text and art, this matter-of-fact account of the atom bomb’s development renders scientific complexity intelligible.
There is no preaching here, so readers must ponder the illustrations of apocalyptic devastation in order to process the full implications of nuclear warfare. The framing of the narrative begins with the invocation of Prometheus, who took fire from the gods and gave it to mankind (“knowledge for which we weren’t ready”), and ends with the ominous: “If radiation were somehow visible…we would see this power everywhere we looked. We would see it in the dirt, in our bones, in the air and the water…And we would remember that this atomic force is a force of nature. As innocent as an earthquake. As oblivious as the sun. It will outlast our dreams.” The artistry of Fetter-Vorm, who has graphically adapted Beowulf and Moby-Dick, among other works, complements his stark prophecy, as it details the bomb’s development from the discovery of radioactivity by Marie Curie through the Manhattan Project led by leftist physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, through the decision by President Harry Truman to employ Hiroshima as not only a military target but a “test site.” The narrative leaves readers with the sense that few of those involved in the development or deployment of the bomb had a sense of the almost unimaginable devastation that would result. The use of the weapon not only caused a rupture in the relationship between Oppenheimer and Truman, it opened a Pandora’s box of radiation aftereffects beyond the initial horrors of the bombings (powerfully rendered here).
Succeeds as both a graphic primer and a philosophical meditation.