Jonathan Hickman’s weird science series “The Manhattan Projects” returns after a short break with a low-key issue exploring what happened to Laika, the Space Dog, since she rocketed from Earth. Warning: the type of person unexcited by the term “space dog” will be hopelessly bored with what transpires here. If, however, you’re like me and this phrase makes you sit straight up in your chair when you find out you’re about to read about a talking dog in space, then you’ll live for this.
Laika is taken in and kept as a zoo creature/experiment by aliens looking to catalogue the entire galaxy. Through good fortune she is able to escape and, along with a floating head that only screams “Blarg!” and a lying robot, steal a spaceship for continued adventures where the only rule is there are no rules. Oh before this happens she’s bathed in a goo that morphs her in to an evolved, upright state.
What I love about this series is that it continues to be Hickman at his weirdest, yet so much more accessible than the labyrinthian work he does for major publishers. Go up a paragraph and re-read the plot. It’s bonkers, but the personalities of these weirdos are all so unique and fun to read that it makes the book’s internal logic flow so well. Laika is an action hero — determined, brave, focused, smart, and also a dog. In space. I was actually a tad disappointed to see her become bi-pedal because I just lived the idea of a dog, as a dog, becoming a space outlaw. Rye and UNa are a fantastic pair of foils, counterbalancing Laika’s earnestness with many lies and shouts of “Blarg!” I would not complain if they had a spinoff series. My favorite moment in the book was Rye introducing all of the various creatures to Laika with repeated “Blargs”. Very funny. Other aliens speak in a codec lettered by Rus Wooton and I have a feeling once we figure out how to decipher it those speech bubbles are going to reveal something Laika will have wished she knew.
Ryan Browne steps up on art in this issue and creates an impressively strange world of creatures on the alien ship. The designs are all unique and clear, and the action flows through the pages at a quick pace. I really like his style, reminiscent of Frank Quitely with a tinge of Herge. He uses thin lines that work well for the clinical, sterile nature of the environment. Jordie Bellaire, hardest working human in comics, creates a clear tonal shift in atmosphere between the opening/closing segments and the middle sequence in space. Her work continues to astound to the surprise of no one.
This is an issue of “Manhattan Projects” focused on a smaller story rather than the larger game Hickman is playing. It benefits from that focus and presents a great tale full of heart, danger, action, and hope. And it stars a talking dog in space. Let’s be real: that’s all you should need to know to buy this book.