Jonathan Hickman broke into the comic scene in 2006 with the release of “The Nightly News” from Image Comics. He went on to create more comics for the company such as “Pax Romana” and “Transhuman” before making the jump over to Marvel with “Astonishing Tales” and “Secret Warriors” and eventually moving on to bigger books like “Fantastic Four” and “The Ultimates.” With plenty of experience on both sides of the creative fence, the writer has recently returned to the realm of creator-owned comics.
In March, “The Manhattan Projects” joins Hickman’s other recent Image Comics titles “The Red Wing” and “Feel Better Now,” the latter of which will be released later this year as a graphic novel. The creator noted his alternate reality story about the team of scientists that built the atomic bomb will be the first ongoing he’s ever written outside of Marvel Comics. With this new, darker science-based comic in the works, CBR News spoke with Hickman about the story’s alternate history elements, working with “Red Wing” artist Nick Pitarra again and how “Manhattan Projects” differs from “Fantastic Four.”
“‘The Manhattan Projects’ is an alt-history story about — big surprise here — the Manhattan Project,” Hickman said. “That one little extra ‘s’ makes all the difference. In our case, the government project to design, create and deploy an atomic bomb was actually a cover for the more interesting and secret projects the United States, and others, were working on.”
“The Manhattan Projects” might not be the first new Image comic from Hickman in recent memory, but it does mark his first ongoing — “Red Wing” was a four issue miniseries and “Feel Better Now” changed from a 40-page one-shot into a full-on graphic novel.
“For the reader, it will be familiar structurally — a series of one-and-dones that exist independently of each other and build to an underlying larger plot, but done a bit more… I dunno, enigmatically,” Hickman told CBR News. “This is the first ongoing I’ve ever done outside of Marvel, so I’m very excited about both the possibilities of the story itself and the potential of that structure on an independent project. Should be fun.”
Considering the setting and the infamous name behind the project, it should come as no surprise that the book is populated with real world scientists including Albert Einstein and the godfather of quantum mechanics, Richard Feynman.
“It’s an ensemble book. It features General Leslie Groves, Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, Wernher Von Braun, Einstein, FDR, Truman, Yuri Gagarin,” Hickman said. “If there is a central character, it would be Feynman as the entire thing is told from his perspective — from his journals, ‘Clavis Aurea – The Collected Feynman.'”
While the members of the actual Manhattan Project focused solely on the atomic bomb, the ones in Hickman’s series have plenty of other projects to work involving everything from aliens to alternate realities.
“One of the things we play with in the book is conspiracy, so of course you will see things like the world’s first alien encounter, Area 51, secret organizations running the United States government, all the black file stuff that happened at the end of World War II — you get the idea,” Hickman said. “We lean into those tropes and then veer off into a new direction mixing all of that with the related weird science familiars: Alternate realities/parallel dimensions, exotic energy sources, future tech, theoretical physics. Of course, by themselves, none of this is really bleeding edge stuff. What makes it interesting — what makes it cool — what makes it worth doing, is the prism through which we’re looking at all of this. There’s a really good reason why we’re branding this as, ‘SCIENCE. BAD.'”
With so much focus on science and science-fiction, comparisons to Hickman’s work on “Fantastic Four” and “FF” might spring up, but Hickman explained how different the two concepts are.
“If anything, this is thematically the opposite,” Hickman said. “The ‘Fantastic Four’ is about hope, and love, and family. This is not that. At all. I suppose in comic book parlance the most accurate comparison would be calling it ‘The Thunderbolts of Science.’ And even then, I don’t think that quite captures where we’re headed.”
On the other hand, artist Pitarra nailed exactly where Hickman wanted to go with “The Manhattan Projects.” The writer explained working with Pitarra on “The Red Wing” acted as test run of sorts for this new project.
“We just finished doing ‘The Red Wing,’ which was kind of a tryout for him to see if he could handle the monthly grind,” Hickman said. “He, obviously, passed with flying colors and so here we are. ‘The Manhattan Projects’ was actually always a book we were going to do together, we just had to work out the kinks first. Nicky’s great. We also have Cris Peter on colors who brings her unique, and wonderful, sensibility to the book. And then we also have Rus Wooton on letters whom I’ve had the privilege of working with at Marvel and was the first person I thought of. I’m very happy with the team.”
Hickman and Image Comics are so happy with the creative team and the book itself that they have a pretty solid offer ready for potential readers. “I think it’s worth pointing out that one of the incentives we are offering is making the first three issues of ‘The Manhattan Projects’ completely returnable,” Hickman revealed. “Both Image and I strongly believe in the book and view this as a comment on both its quality and accessibility. We believe it can truly benefit our retail partners. To that end, preorders are due by February 13th, so please feel free to tip your creators.”
“The Manhattan Projects” begins March 7.