Welcome to The Multiversity Projections, the new monthly column focused on the Image Comics series “The Manhattan Projects” from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. Each month, we’ll be taking a look at the most current issue of the series and comparing notes from actual history and the alternate version presented in the book, and trying to use actual historical data to predict where the series is going next. This is a spoiler-heavy column, so if you have not yet read the most current issue of “The Manhattan Projects”, be warned that many major plot points will be discussed.
The column logo is designed by our favorite, Tim Daniel, whose work can be found here.
Disclaimer: I am no expert in either science or World War II history; all of the information I will be using in this column is either easily found on the internet or is purely my opinion.
If you’ve been granted security clearance, hit the jump for your briefing.
This issue begins with a quote from Clavis Aurea: The Recorded Feynman, Volume 4, which reads: “I was surrounded by those willing to sacrifice all of mankind if doing so achieved their goals. Evil deeds by evil men that only I could prevent. Mourn then the passing of the world. For when the time came, I could find no good in myself, only mischief.”
Clavis Aurea is a Latin phrase meaning “the golden key,” and so one can presume that the quotes from the book are to act as our guide throughout the story, dropping hints, adding perspective and, hopefully, giving some sort of road map for where this series is heading. As for The Recorded Feynman, a quick search brought me to a Physics textbook called The Feynman Lectures on Physics, which puts to paper many of the lectures that physicist Dr. Richard P. Feynman gave at Caltech between 1961 and 1963. Feynman was also part of the Manhattan Project.
Now seems to be as good a time as any to talk about what the Manhattan Project actually was. Started in 1939, but not really begun in earnest until 1942, the Manhattan Project was established to design and develop an atomic bomb. Much like its comic counterpart, it did involve Leslie Grove, Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Glenn Seaborg, Richard Feynman and Edwin McMillan, among others.
However, the atomic bomb was where the Manhattan Project began and ended. The Manhattan Projects, however, have a far greater scope.
Feynman – Not seen in issue one, but quoted at both the beginning and end of the issue.
How does the historical version differ from the MPs version?: It is hard to tell so far, as all we know is that both were physicists who worked on the project(s) and both had their lectures recorded. The real life Feynman was a pioneer in quantum mechanics/computing/electrodynamics and nanotechnology.
|Groves – Not Quite as Threatening|
Groves – The General in charge of the Manhattan Projects.
How does the historical version differ from the MPs version?: Body type is a big one – as Pitarra mentioned to our Editor in Chief, Groves was actually a pretty doughy guy. He is presented in the comic as a pretty trigger happy dude, but since I haven’t read much about the guy beyond the facts, I can’t confirm or deny this fact.
Albert Einstein – Scientist working as part of the Manhattan Projects
How does the historical version differ from the MPs version?: Einstein only gets slightly more face time than Seaborg and McMillan, but there is one important detail worth mentioning here: Albert Einstein considered signing the letter that led to the Manhattan Project the greatest mistake he ever made, and here he does not seem particularly happy to be a part of the Projects.
|Seaborg and McMillan|
Seaborg and McMillan – Scientists working as part of the Manhattan Projects
How does the historical version differ from the MPs version?: They get a one panel mention, and are illustrated under containment suits, so it is hard, thus far, to get any real sense of how they differ from their “real life” counterparts. Their real life counterparts shared the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering information on and producing the first transuranium elements (elements higher than 92 on the Periodic Table of Elements) and, of course, were part of the Manhattan Project.
Oppenheimer – Civilian Head of the Manhattan Projects
How does the historical version differ from the MPs version?: To again reference the Pitarra interview, it was an artistic choice to present Oppenheimer as the older version, as opposed to how he really did look in 1943, which is to say, a little bit like Eraserhead. Much like here, familial connections to Communism were considered an issue with his appointment, but Groves personally took care of the issue and moved him along in the vetting process. He really was the Civilian Head of the Project. Despite these similarities, Oppenheimer’s story is clearly the most divergent from the real world.
Much like the atom bomb, the Oppenheimer who we meet in the comic was created by fission – that is, by a zygote that split in two. Robert Oppenheimer, and his twin Joseph, are represented by a series of double-page spreads, split into blue (for Robert) and red (for Joseph), telling their stories, until they come crashing together. Robert’s story is one of triumph and intellect; Joseph’s is one of psychosis and terror.
The Oppenheimer we met on page on page 2 is not Robert at all, but Joseph, having killed and ingested his brother, to never be “left behind again.” Even that statement is not totally accurate – the Oppenheimer we met is already more than just Joseph; he has begun to create different variations of himself, to be all things – “The Whole” is how he puts it.
Much like the zygote splitting to form two Oppenheimers, two totally different realities formed form the splitting of the atom. One is the Allied reality: worldwide domination by Japan, Germany and Italy was prevented in part by the threat of, and eventually the detonation of, the atomic bomb. Minus some cancer and deformity for those who were overexposed to the radiation, this side (I’m hesitant to say “our side”) came out relatively unscathed.
However, there is also the Japanese reality: shadows burned into the sidewalks, people still suffering, almost 70 years later, the crumpling of a world power. Japan, in a way, has recovered, but the Japan of 1945 and the Japan of 2012 can hardly be compared to one another – the bomb changed the course of a nation’s history irrevocably.
The thesis statement of this book, thus far, is that the Manhattan Project, singular, was used as the public diversion for the Manhattan Projects, plural. So far, we have a few hints as to what is being worked on:
1) Artificial Intelligence – This one is pretty self explanatory, and would be an obvious desire of the scientific community, especially at wartime.
2) Mining “Pan-Dimensional Space” – Very little context is given here, but just by looking at the contextual clues, we can assume that Seaborg and McMillan are stealing from parallel universes, or dimensions, to locate and store weapons that would be beyond the understanding/defensive knowledge of the enemy.Continued below
3) Einstein’s Project – This is the vaguest of all, as we only see Einstein sitting in a locked room with liquor, various artifacts, and a stool, staring at an object that resembles both the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey and a Flip cam. Some of the artifacts resemble pieces from the Stargate series, but this is probably just my love for that film coming through. This project is said to be under the personal jurisdiction of Groves, so I am sure it won’t be the last we see of it.
|A non-weaponized Red Torii|
The big action scene of the issue is an attack by the Japanese on Base Zero, the headquarters of the Manhattan Projects, within the War Department. This is the second attack mentioned here, as the first was a “sentient origami” attack, which struck me as both hilarious and horrifying. This attack, however, is a projectile known as a “Red Torii,” described as a portal powered by Death Buddhists, to bring soldiers across the globe. From the portal emerge robots (designed by Soichiro Honda) shouting the Japanese kanji for death, attempting to kill the scientists. It is here that we first see the brutal side of Oppenheimer, which leads us directly into the reveal of him not being exactly who he says. A Red Torii is actually a kind of gate used in Buddhist areas.
Priority #1 appears to be to appease Washington with the creation of an atomic bomb, so I presume that the series will tackle that issue early on (especially since issue three is called ‘The Bomb’), however, after that, there appear to be very few limits on what this series can tackle. Based on some of the characters involved, let’s speculate as to what some future projects can be:
1) Nanotechnology – Everyone’s favorite answer to what the Smoke Monster was on Lost (before it was, you know,the Man in Black), nanotechnology seems like a natural place for the series to go. While Feynman’s work in the field was never militaristic, the opening quote for the series seems to imply that his moral compass lost its north somewhere along his time as part of the MPs. Perhaps this becomes the government’s next major weapon – a weapon that could be inhaled, swallowed, or bumped into that could destroy a person from the inside out?
2) The bomb won’t be the end of the use of nuclear materials – McMillan and Seaborg did extensive work with radioactive decay, and helped discover a totally new set of elements. Perhaps these are not so much discovered as, say, borrowed, from a different reality? Which would lead to…
3) The Eventual Revenge from the Other Dimensions – Poaching won’t go unnoticed forever, so how exactly will the other dimensions respond? Will they let something tainted be taken? Or will they try and attack through a portal?
4) Space will become a player – Yuri Gagarian has already been teased as a part of the series moving forward (possibly the focus of next issue, ‘Rocket Man’), so how will the Manhattan Projects deal with outer space? Will the Space Race of the 1960s be unnecessary if the government is funding “big ideas” by the greatest scientific minds of the time twenty years earlier?
5) The arts meet science – After his time on the MPs, the real-life Oppenheimer was the director at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. While there, he expanded the Institute’s reach to include the humanities – a controversial move, but one that he stood behind. Might the fictional Oppenheimer use his influence to let writers, musicians, and visual artists into the Manhattan Projects? What would Ives have composed, or de Kooning painted if given total freedom and funding?Continued below
The issue ends much as it began, with a quote from Feynman: “In the beginning, when I first joined the Projects – before his internal civil war, before the great culling, before the amalgamated Oppenheimer coalesced, thirty-two distinct versions of the Doctor existed. From there, the rate of fracture increased exponentially, and by 1968 that number was virtually endless.”
This quote has me thinking quite a bit. The fact that Feynman knows of the multiple personalities means either that Oppenheimer is bad at hiding it, or he is open about it; either option seems to be one that the government would want to eliminate. So, was Oppenheimer’s work so valuable that they were willing to put up with an insane man producing it? Or, at some point, does the Manhattan Projects become a collection of thinkers gone mad, with no one there to corral them back into normalcy?
If you have any questions, thoughts, or observations, please leave them in the comments below, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can purchase “The Manhattan Projects” at fine comic book stores everywhere, or digitally here.
See you next month!