The second volume of Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra's The Manhattan Projects collects issues #6 - 10. They have apparently decided to do without subtitles, like the American Vampire collections. They're doing without any kind of description of the series as well (like the East of West collection), other than the series motto "Science. Bad." Even the most charitable reading of the action would have to call that an understatement, to say the least.
The main focus at the beginning of these issues is a rocket scientist named Helmutt Gröttrup, a second-rater who escapes Wernher von Braun's mass homicide at the Nazi Science Stronghold, only to run into the arms of the Russian army. They take him to their science center, Star City. There he invents a propulsion system which enables the Russians to send the first man into space: Captain Yuri Gagarin. After his return Gagarin always appears in his space suit, with helmet, with his cosmonaut dog companion (also suited). It's the sort of surreal visual that the series delights in.
But the real action begins when the scientists decide to bypass government oversight to harness their technology to defend the planet from the extraterrestrial threat. The Illuminati (a paranoid's version of the Real Powers, with members like Freemason President Harry S. Truman, a man in charge of the world banking system, a man in charge of the world's religions, and the A.I. of the late President FDR) decide they must be stopped, and shown their true place.
The naked struggle for power begins with the invasion of the science facilities by cabal forces, and the revolt of the A.I., who turns on the scientists who created him. It's a short, violent struggle, but in the end the scientists come out on top. Einstein and Feynman are the big action heroes (Oppenheimer appears in several scenes, usually complete with his gang of multiple personalities displayed in ghostly form, but doesn't contribute much to the action). But they are topped by the extreme heroics of Von Braun, who saves the day at the expense of quite a few body parts. In the course of this poor fall guy Gröttrup gets screwed again, a recurring event in this story arc. And Gagarin's dog Laika speaks for the first time, so he must be much smarter than we thought.
Just when you thought the battle was over, it goes on for another issue. I was surprised to see that most of the Illuminati actually took part in the invasion: I'd have expected them to stay above the fray and let the robots and human cannon fodder do the work. But since they're locked in the science lab with the scientists and General Groves...let's just say that those pieces are definitely off the board, permanently. Poor Truman gets a visit from Oppenheimer. In the words of the Borg: you will be assimilated. This sets the scene for a new President, with a blank check for the Manhattan Project. He's not named, but there is a resemblance to JFK, complete with a "we choose to go to the moon in this decade" speech given at a University. The pacing here is a bit surprising, much like a conventional super hero book.
Things take a much different tack in Issue #10, "Finite Oppenheimers" (a callback to the first issue in the series, which was titled "Infinite Oppenheimers"). This issue takes place entirely in Joseph Oppenheimer's mind. Robert Oppenheimer (the famous scientist brother who Joseph has been impersonating after killing and eating him in the first issue) becomes conscious. He witnesses Joseph's mind splintering as a result of all of the personalities he has assimilated. And he decides to take action: "the Oppenheimer Civil War began." Looks like Oppenheimer is coming back to center stage.
One other thing about the series. Like many of Hickman's projects, the graphic design features interstitial pages with quotes setting up the coming action (e.g. "He believed the lie"), as well as quotes from an imaginary document called Clavis Aurea: The Recorded Feynman. Although they always have some relevance to the narrative they precede, I found them to be an unnecessary distraction after awhile. They don't add anything significant to the story, and The Feynman quotes especially come off as pretentious.
Wait, they're jumping from Truman to JFK? They're skipping Eisenhower?
Yep. It is an alternate history, after all. I noticed that as well. It certainly suits the scientists to get a President who is ready to support science as a national priority. It will be interesting to see how long JFK survives in this time line.
Well, they can always download him like FDR ...
BTW, thanks for reviewing this, since I never would. Of course, you're half-talking me into buying it ... :)
Happy to help, Cap! I was more intrigued by the first collection than you were, as I recall. But I do think Hickman is going somewhere interesting with this. Thinking more about skipping Eisenhower, I'm guessing he was just too bland a historical figure to be useful, even in altered form. It's always possible Hickman has some other idea in mind, like having Eisenhower take over when JFK is assassinated.