Welcome to The Multiversity Projections, our 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 the incredible Tim Daniel, whose work can be found here.
Disclaimer: I am not an 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.
This month, we have been graciously given some in-progress artwork from Nick Pitarra, to go along with Pitarra and Jonathan Hickman answering a few questions about the series.
If you’ve been granted security clearance, read on for your briefing.
This month, we get to the project we all knew was coming: the atomic bomb, and with it, we get an introduction to the Oval Office, two of its denizens, and some brazen decisions, made by men without regards to authority.
This month, the first quote from Clavis Aurea deals with the titular bomb.
“The bomb made us reckless. It made us arrogant. It made us stop believing in the possibility that anything could be done. Instead, we knew it.”
This seems to be the turning point of the Projects, where ideas stopped being “what if?” and started being “when?”
This is a theme repeated throughout the issue. Instead of waiting for the ok for if/when to drop the bomb, it is simply dropped. Instead of waxing philosophic about the moral issues behind harnessing a dead man’s brain, a needle is plunged into FDR’s skull and it’s done.
When the fear of failure is removed from the equation, the questions get scarier.
Perhaps my favorite panels of the book so far take place inside Einstein’s room. Besides his monolith, some of the objects I (think I) see in there:
The Ark of the Covenant
A Penny Farther
A Princeton rug
A Lava Lamp
The giant head Mr. Burns bought Homer Simpson for saving his life
Some prototype robotics
A statue of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea
A toy duck
At the end of this issue, we see a page titled “The Cast,” which recaps who everyone is and what they are all about. We learn, via what is given to us, what is important about each person- are they a genius? Where were they born? What is their profession? And what is their distinguishing characteristic?
We get interesting tidbits for three of the players on that page:
Enrico Fermi – Fermi’s distinguishing characteristic is that he is not human. This is certainly a surprise, as everything about him in both last issue and this issue shows him as exceedingly human, especially when talking to Daghlian about the former’s irradiated state. (More on that in a minute)
General Groves and Harry S. Truman – Not geniuses. See the section titled “The Genius Distinction” for a discussion of Truman and Groves, and what they have in common.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Artificial Intelligence – As artificial intelligence, he is listed as a computational genius. Is this because of increased brain power due to not having the limitations of a human body? Or was he a genius beforehand? I’m putting my money on the former.Continued below
Outside of the roll call, we learn a little more about three of the more unusual scientists in the Projects.
Harry Daghlian – We see in this issue that Daghlian needs to feed on plutonium and uranium to keep himself alive – more on him in “5 Projections.”
“Robert” Oppenheimer – Oppenheimer has gone from a man relatively able to keep his multiple personalities in order to someone who is struggling with reality in a few short months. Who knows how unstable he will appear in a few years?
Who is the Redhead? There is a scientist running with Daghlian and Fermi, who is helping them get the FDR: AI ready to go. I tried to do a search for a red-headed Manhattan Project scientist, but only went down a few dead ends before giving up. Is this someone we will learn more about? Or, am I projecting (no pun intended) importance on this minor character? Time will tell.
The second quote from our pal Feynman is the necessary follow up to the first.
“What am i guilty of? An intimate familiarity with the necessity of fiction. The truth is my wife, but lies are my mistress.”
This secret project is enough of a liability to have lies, and lies abundantly, present. Add to that the fact that the government who sanctioned this project is increasingly being driven out of it, and the very basic rules of life and death are being circumvented – yeah, people are going to lie.
The only two men who are designated as not geniuses in the Cast are Truman and Groves. But this is not the only quality that they share, and perhaps the other quality is the reason that they are not geniuses.
In this issue, both men are presented as having a belief system in place that is not science.
As someone who holds a degree in theology, I was intrigued to find the specific passage from Judges that the Groves men were referencing and, somewhat surprisingly, it doesn’t appear to be an actual piece of scripture. If it is , Hickman’s translation differs from most of the conventional translations at my disposal. However, the idea behind the passage is very much a historically accurate view, and the passage sounded real enough to read as true.
Truman, on the other hand, is shown as a high-ranking freemason. Now, freemasonry isn’t exactly a religion, nor is it exactly a science-based belief system, nor is it really known what it actually believes, as it is a controversial organization that shrouds much of its teaching in secrecy.
Now, I am not a freemason, but those words sound an awful lot like Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. In Catholic teaching, when an ordained priest says the words of Christ at the Last Supper, the Holy Spirit transforms simple bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Is this to show some connective tissue between the beliefs of Groves and Truman? Possibly. Is this coincidental? Also possible. Am I reading too much into this? Probably.
Finally, we get the punchline to the death of President Roosevelt:
“After Hiroshima, at the urging of General Groves and Director Oppenheimer, the FDR Artificial Intelligence established a shadow government of the United States.”
And, here the dominoes begin to fall. I believe that the AI discovery will change everything, which leads directly into my projections for this month:
1) Forever-Class Frigate, UTDF von Braun
Last issue ended with this quote: “The exploratory, Forever-Class Frigate, UTDF von Braun, left the solar system in 1997. It never returned.”Continued below
I now suspect that this is the AI interface created after Von Braun’s death, placed into a rocket, his preferred method of thought, and sent off into space. So, with FDR and von Braun inhabiting AIs, who else is preserved that way?
2) The Shadow Government
With a Shadow Government established, what famous (or infamous) moments in American history has it been responsible for? Could FDR have been displeased with the Bay of Pigs almost leading to nuclear winter, and so he put a hit out on JFK? Was it FDR’s government that exposed Nixon, or attempted to assassinate Reagan?
3) Daghlian’s Nutrition
As mentioned earlier, Daghlian seems to subsist on plutonium and uranium, two volatile and expensive elements. Despite his genius, will the cost, both monetarily and safety-wise, eventually cause him to be cut loose? And how exactly do you dispose of an irradiated man?
4) Other Non-Sanctioned Acts
We see Groves directly ignore President Truman’s orders and drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima anyway. We can only begin to wonder what else Groves will do with his power, and how history will write these tales. I have one guess, though: in a world where Americans grow more and more cocky for no good reason, perhaps the modern day MPs will show them they still need fear in their lives. Could the most horrific case modern terrorism be an inside job? Yes, I think that 9/11 may have been another Enola Gay moment.
5) All We Have to Fear Is Ourselves
This is FDR’s first thought after being reborn as artificial intelligence. This reinforces the Clavis Aurea quote from the beginning of the book – long gone is the fear of fear itself (sorry Marvel!), because fear can’t split the atom. We can, and therefore, we are the most terrifying thing in the universe. But what happens if, or rather, when, we encounter something beyond even our own intelligence? What happens when we encounter something we do need to fear. And with the inter-dimensional thievery discussed in issue #1, that can’t be too far behind.
This month, again, we are lucky to be joined by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra, who are kindly giving some time each month to answer a question about the series.
I asked Hickman about the characterizations of these historical figures:
This series manipulates our preconceived notions about its characters quite a bit – from the hard drinking, Buddhist torturing Einstein, to the genius tag being applied to FDR. When looking at these real life people, are you trying to simply exaggerate traits that are already present or are you simple having fun taking the familiar and inverting it however you see fit?
Jonathan Hickman: Oh, I think I’m just playing by the rules I established with the premise of the book.
Now, I’m sure there some readers who are familiar with the history of the real people appearing as characters in the Manhattan Projects — And I’m also sure that, if you were a big fan of, say, the real Robert Oppenheimer or Albert Einstein, you might be offended at their portrayal if you believed the premise of The Manhattan Projects to be “The adventures of your favorite historical figures in an alt-history United States.”
Which is, of course, certainly reasonable, but not what we’re doing at all. As the premise of our book is, “What if the Manhattan Project titans who changed the world were not good, but evil?”
I then asked Pitarra about his freedom as an artist, specifically when building the settings the stories inhabit.
When you get a script, how much leeway are you given in terms of the world you’re creating? I’m thinking specifically of some of the environments, like Einstein’s room, or one of the laboratories – do you get script notes that say “Einstein has the Ark of the Covenant and a statue of Neptune in his room,” or are those your touches?
Pitarra: Great question! I think the most honest answer is that there are times when I have a lot of room to play and they’re are times when I don’t. With my environments…I’m so invested in them as an artist that they kind of become characters themselves. I work everything out on a grid…finding the perspective and building the rooms of The Manhattan Projects from the ground up (check out the attached line art to see what I mean, the blue line are all done by hand with a ruler) . When you spend that kind of time drawing one scene and literally that much time in the room your characters are inhabiting its impossible for me to not add things here and there….things that make the environments unique and give them charm.Continued below
A great example of that is Leslie Groves’s office from issue one. When I read through the script Grove’s was so gung ho, just a big bad-ass machismo general. So much so that we gave him a nice muscular physic (even though in real life he was a bit of a tub). So page one issue one calls for the conversation between Groves and Oppenheimer. And as a visual storyteller…I couldn’t help but start putting guns and bombs and grenades every where. I think I even put bullet holes in the Generals desk. For me that kind of brings a story to the environment. Now the reader thinks…why in the fuck are all of these weapons in here? It adds an uneasy edge, tells a story in and of itself, sets the tone for the insanity of the series, and fleshes out Grove’s character to the reader in a quick glance.
Just drawing it I figured well if he is in a place where samurai robots dropping out of the sky are common place…then I’d bet he’d be armed to the gills. SO now when you open on that scene…you get Hickman’s set up, you get the tension of the conversation, BUT you also get a ton of visual information that is unique and I’d say is my voice and what I bring to the story. AND that’s not always all good. Jonathan and I, creatively speaking, really balance each other out and sometimes we play tug of war. Because as much as I loved adding that edge to the scene…there’s a point where things can become silly or strange borderline taking the reader out of the story versus sinking them in it.
So a lot of times Jonathan calls me laughing “You know you’re going to have to change that.” And…he doesn’t have to say what…because I knew while drawing it that he’d probably want to change it. But Jonathan pulling me away from being too silly, and me just grounding everything in fleshed out/thought out environments….we lean on each other and work off each other so well.
By that I mean he forces me to take my work more seriously, more deliberate, less random and more confident. And the flip side of that is if he writes that a character gets his brain probed…or some awesome over the top plot twist happens…you believe that moment is happening because the whole scene is grounded, the pencil with a weird eraser in a cup on top of a desk is there, and it’s exact and wonderful BELIEVABLE. And because the environments and things in them are concrete and believable…when crazy happens in those settings…you don’t second guess them as a reader and are along for the ride. So essentially, I help sell Hickman’s crazy and he keeps me from being a goof.
I have a ton more to say about the topic, but we’ll have to wait for later weeks. For now enjoy checking out BEHIND THE LINES..
Thanks again to Nick and Jonathan.
Next month’s solicit names the issue “The Rose Bridge,” and teases “the Life and Death of Albert Einstein.” I, for one, can’t wait.
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!