You know the names: Oppenheimer, “father of the atomic bomb”; Einstein, the most influential physicist of the 20th century; Roosevelt, President of the United States during the Great Depression and World War II; Truman, Roosevelt's Vice President and successor, who dropped the bomb on Japan to end the war; von Braun, former Nazi and “father of Rocket Science”; Feynman, genius and theoretical physicist.
You should also remember The Manhattan Project; America's top-secret research and development project located in Los Alamos, New Mexico. They produced the first atomic bomb.
Now, add in flying saucers, aliens, wormholes, Japanese kamikaze robots, artificial intelligences, alternate realities, evil twins and galactic war. Or, what if Robert Oppenheimer had a criminally insane twin brother? Or if Albert Einstein was replaced by his evil twin from an alternate reality? These are just a few of the ideas put forth in The Manhattan Projects, Vol. I: Science Bad, written by Jonathan Hickman (The Nightly News, Avengers), drawn by Nick Pitarra (The Red Wing), and published by Image Comics. The series, packaged together and published in a graphic novel from Image Comics, hinges on the idea that The Manhattan Project—singular—was actually The Manhattan Projects—plural. The creation of the atomic bomb was only the tip of the iceberg.
Under the supervision of Leslie Groves, an insanely patriotic General, Robert Oppenheimer is brought into the fold of The Manhattan Projects, America's super-secret science research and development division. They deal with everything from ways to end the war to visiting aliens, and Oppenheimer is asked to become the civilain administrator over everything. The only problem? Oppenheimer is dead. His twin brother, Joseph, murdered him and ate him. Yes, ate him. He did this so Robert could not escape, and also so Joseph could absorb all of his knowledge.
Reporting directly to Oppenheimer are some of the greatest minds of our time: Einstein, Feynman, von Braun, Fermi, Daghlian. Only, Einstein has been replaced by a double from an alternate universe. Fermi isn't human. Feynman is a genius, but there's something not quite right with him. Daghlian has become irradiated, and must be constantly contained within a radiation suit. And von Braum is a cyborg.
Oh, and did I mention that when Roosevelt died, they sucked his brain into a computer to create the first AI?
Where do I begin?
This book is insane. In a good way. There are twists around every corner. And I didn't see them coming, which I love. The creation of the atomic bomb is a tiny part of this book. The writing is brilliant, the characters are twisted and dark versions of the historical figures we know. It's the kind of story where just enough things are different, and it causes things to spin wildly out of control.
The art is complicated and gritty, and it doesn't bother me in the least. Normally it would. But it fits with the story. Groves is this overly-muscled, cigar-chewing fanatic. Oppenheimer is a skinny little guy with a giant head. Feynman looks utterly normal. And it fits.
The Manhattan Projects, Vol. I: Science Bad, collects the first five issues of the comics, and has little in the way of frills. There's a character guide on the last page, and that's about it.
I enjoyed this book immensely, enough so that I've already picked up Volume 2.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host and editor (2013) who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.