The Manhattan Projects #10 by Jonathan Hickman, Jordie Bellaire and Ryan Browne, who is filling in for series regular Nick Pitarra, drops us into the headspace of the deranged Joseph Oppenheimer. As the fictional twin of Robert Oppenheimer, his fraternal love drives him to devour the eternal soul of his brother who finds himself awakening in the vast landscape of Joseph’s twisted mind.
The bizarre, fleshed out reality inside Robert’s head is populated by doppelgangers of himself composing some aspect of his splintered personality or deep fantasies. However the imitations aren’t limited solely to people as the sky, the earth, the flora and the fauna all find themselves reflecting his gangly figure and snarling smile in some way. Browne’s illustration shines brightly at delivering these subconscious constructions of hubris and the impossible architecture found in the mind of a man for whom psychopathy is an understatement. The choice to include him as the fill-in artist on such a unique issue also serves very well at not creating discord from the usual work of Pitarra whose drawings have so definitively crafted the world of this series so far.
Also aiding with insuring the guest art gels smoothly with series expectations are Jordie Bellaire’s colours. While previous issues have used the strict red/blue motif for flashback scenes, issue #10 embraces the binary color scheme wholeheartedly in intro with subtle use of more washed and warm greys for backgrounds in the mind-scape scenes to help construct the polarity of the reds and blues and what they represent. The cast-down, lone figure of Robert Oppenheimer begins as the only blue figure amidst a sea of red creatures and avatars of his brother’s madness. I found it interesting that while in previous issues blue tended to reflect the more passive characters and moments with red claiming aggressive behavior, in this issue the blue Robert seizes the active role in a world of red inhabitants bending to his will and squabbling fruitlessly among themselves. The shift in dynamics of the familiar is a subtle reminder of the bent laws of logic existing in the brain of the mad man Oppenheimer.
And of course tying all this insanity together is the equally unhinged writing of Hickman who has never failed to deliver compelling characterizations and motivations in the Manhattan projects. Robert’s realization of sheer danger his brother poses serves to both underpin the ticking timebomb Joseph is in the main narrative as well as providing Robert himself with the chance of evolution, as he adopts a mantra of war against the cerebral nightmare entrapping him. The bookending title page quotes seem disturbingly ominous and build a great sense of dread. With set ups like these Hickman eschews a final-page, “shocking” hook to lure readers in for the next issue in favour of these general impressions of things-to-come, which to me at least feels like it’s born out of a healthy authorial respect for the audience’s intelligence and readership. It’s something far too lacking in a large portion of today’s mainstream comic industry.
So in short: Oppenheimer becomes death, destroyer of his brother’s world. The world will not be the same.