A cursory overview of the issue makes comparisons to Jonathan Hickman’s “Manhattan Projects” almost unavoidable, as both feature the world’s most well-known scientific minds (although in this case, fictional) coming together to work on public and highly secret projects that may test the moral boundaries of science. Thankfully, Eric Stephenson’s book is separated from Hickman’s not only by time period, but also by having some different aims in examining its characters, despite its similar premise.
Written by Eric Stephenson
Illustrated by Nate Bellegarde
“SCIENCE IS THE NEW ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.” So said Dade Ellis, Simon Grimshaw, Emerson Strange and Thomas Walker at the dawn of a new age of enlightenment that ushered in a boom in scientific advancement. As the research supergroup World Corp., they became the most celebrated scientists of all time. They changed the world — and we loved them for it. But where did it all go wrong? And when progress is made at any and all cost, who ultimately pays the price?
“Nowhere Men” opens at the peak of popularity for science and technology in the world as the principal characters of the story strut through the halls on the way to an important press conference. The matters at hand seem to be just as much about giving the people the personalities they want as whatever it is they’ll be announcing, which is coupled with Stephenson comparing science several times to rock and roll, showing us that in this scenario popular science has taken the world by storm. The world has been improved on multiple occasions by these guys, earning them Steve Jobs-esque recognition, but it isn’t very long at all before we go forward in time, seeing something of a downfall for our characters and the quite literal fallout of what they’ve been doing behind the scenes at World Corp. It’s clear the fact that World Corp’s projects have had several casualties over the years and that some of our “heroes” are more willing to overlook them than others in the name of science, which in turn ends up creating an interesting moral dilemma going forward.
There’s a lot of characters in this book, but the strongest aspect of Stephenson’s writing and Bellegarde’s art really give the cast members unique personalites and defining character traits. However, because everyone is a generally “average” looking human being in that they’re different but not outwardly special, it’s a testament to the writing that we are able to remember who was who, as well as a little bit of trivia about everyone. Best of all, there are no clear heroes or villains at this point, which means that there is plenty of mystery as to how things will play out and who will ultimately be on the “right” side of history. The addition of backmatter only seeks to improve this overall, shedding light on one of the main characters in a 2-page “interview” that helps expand his persona far beyond what we can learn from just reading the comic.
While Stephenson does a magnificent job making characters who are well-rounded and unique, it would appear that there must have been some sacrifice made to the plot. We’re given a great sense that there is a big cast of characters, a big operation being undertaken, and lots of important projects being kept under wraps. Unfortunately, we barely get any details at all as to what these could be. The main projects at the center of the story are not clearly presented to us in any specific way; perhaps it’s unimportant at this point – or even the point, as the focus was very much on the characters themselves – but it did feel as though something was missing.
On the interior, Nate Bellegarde’s art is solid. He is well-suited to the science fiction elements of the story and draws a mean science monster. The settings seem recognizably modern and realistic, while given just the slightest bump in sophistication that would indicate the progress these men and women have made in their world. In terms of character, though, Bellegarde is one of those artists who go in for such detail that they end up drawing the characters individual teeth, which can sometimes give them an odd look — and if that sounds like a strange complaint, it is, but there is more than one occasion where the teeth stick out or are too “present” when characters are having a dialogue. A minor quibble.
But when things begin to take a turn for the worse for our characters, Bellegarde’s art along with Jordie Bellaire’s colors create some literally sick imagery. Suffice it to say, there are a few images peppered throughout the second half of the story that are rather disgusting, but given that this was the point that thought is intended as high praise. Bellaire has been coloring basically every high profile comic book outside the Big 2 these days (plus stuff that they put out!), and her work is always stunning, adding fluently to whatever tone the book is going for. In this case, it’s a bunch of her little specific coloring choices that give the story a layer of illness and unease throughout.
Additionally, the pop art design sensibilities of the comic establish a tone somewhat more so than the interior art does. The design sense of this book really does grab the reader before they even get into the story, as the book pops off the shelf. The pristine logo and deliberately divided color contrast of the cover image highlights the book as an exploration of the personalities behind this highly classified scientific world. Moreover, it honestly just looks cool, as does the interior sizzle page that presents the World Corp as an inclusive movement that everyone should want to get in on. The sharp, bright colors fill the vast negative space of this page and are very visually striking.
Truthfully, I’m not big on comparisons like the one I made in the introduction, but sometimes it can be hard to recommend something new without them, especially when there’s such an obvious comparison to be made. If you like what Hickman and Pitarra are doing in “the Manhattan Projects,” then this is definitely a book to check out. They operate on similar wavelengths while having different goals, and if the first issue is any indication, there’s plenty of room on the stands for both of these books.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Buy. A solid introduction to a robust new world.