Friday, May 24, 2013

Manhattan Projects Volume 1: Science Bad by Jonathan Hickman

I thought that Manhattan Projects was weird, and then the main characters stuck a cybernetic spike into Franklin Roosevelt's head, creating the world's first artificial intelligence.
Woe to anyone hoping that Jonathan Hickman's comic book series would be an accurate retelling of the construction of the atomic bomb. Sure, it gets mentioned from time to time. The real driving force of Hickman's story, which ended up on many top comics lists last year, is the idea that the atomic bomb is just one of the hideous creations that super-geniuses Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman were working on. The other stuff... it ain't pretty.
What's more, the weapon of mass death was the least reprehensible thing that these brilliant men were involved with. Their other projects spiral the story into a mash-up of alternate history with a steady portion of pulp horror.
Take Mr. Oppenheimer, for example. He seems quiet and mild-mannered, but we find that his identity has been assumed by his evil twin brother, who murders and then cannibalizes his victims, gaining their knowledge and souls for a schizophrenic army. You still with me?
All of these figures have their deep, dark secrets. Einstein, locked up by the government, drunkenly obsesses over a 2001-style monolith. What secrets does it hold? Probably some hideous ones.
More people from history emerge, all slightly skewed. Hitler's rocket expert Wenher von Braun shows up with a robotic arm, a gift from the Führer. When Roosevelt dies, Illuminati leader Harry S. Truman is forced to drop the bomb. Good ol' Frank is reanimated into a supercomputer and continues running America via a shadow-government. Then the aliens show up at Area 51.
This book is insane.
Still, Hickman offers a lot of humor, albeit of the dark and twisted variety. The intellectual rivalry between all of the scientists leads to a lot of witty repartee. I have to say the main reason I kept reading was to see what nutso thing would happen next. I'm not sure how this is going to sustain as a long term series, but it's quite a fun ride at this point.
It also piqued my interest in Richard Feynman, one of the lesser criminally-insane scientists, but still flawed by extreme narcissism. Feynman has his own much more accurate biographical comic that was recently published by First Second.
The inclusion of so many real heavy hitters of the science world reminded me of another great, more literary, super-team: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, by Alan Moore.
What both of these titles offer are characters with fantastic abilities who should never work together as a team—unless you wish to accelerate the destruction of the Earth. With science on your side, anything is possible.

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