Monday, December 9, 2013

Opening Contract - The Manhattan Projects #6

This weeks entry covers ideas of duality with sprinkles of colour theory, courtesy of The Manhattan Projects #6, written by Jonathan Hickman, with art by Nick Pitarra, colours by Jordie Bellaire and letters by Russ Wooton.
A quick primer for those not in the know – The Manhattan Projects proposes the notion that the R&D department created to develop the first atomic bomb was a front for more outlandish endeavors. The cast includes such notable historic characters as Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Richard Fenyman and others.

Like Hickman’s other book, Secret, The Manhattan Projects uses a distinct two-colour scheme in some of its scenes. In the first issue we saw the lives of the two Oppenheimer siblings and how their paths differed before they eventually intertwine in murderous fashion. Robert, the more famous of the two, has his life shown in a light blue, whilst the other sibling, Joseph, has his path shown in red. When they finally collide, both colours mix, an effect that serves only to heighten the awareness of just how different these men are.

Issue #6 continues this with its opening panel. The left of the screen is taken up by the grounds outside the castle in Oberammergau and is coloured in blue. The right side of the panel (the divide is pretty much a diagonal line) is red and is dominated by the castle. By having these two colours occupy the same panel the eye is immediately drawn to the contrast, and therefore the difference, between the two. Going back to some of the ground covered in this column we know that red and blue occupy opposite sides of the colour wheel (even the historical ones). Therefore, the colour choice evokes two distinct forces in opposition to each other.

The Manhattan Projects is a series that operates in the concept of dualities and opposing political, moral and ideological stances. There are moments in The Manhattan Projects where characters change colour depending on their circumstance and situation. There’s a great example of this in Issue #6 (pictured). In addition to this we also have the dichotomy of the Cold War, doppelgangers from other dimensions, twisted siblings and in the case of Issue #6, a pairing with a previous installment, Issue #2. In the second issue we’re shown a scene at the aforementioned stronghold in Oberammergau. With the castle under attack by American forces we cut to its interior to see Wernher Von Braun as he convinces the assembled Nazi scientists to kill themselves. This way, their knowledge will be denied to the Americans. When the Americans finally enter the stronghold they find everyone poisoned except Von Braun. He’s tricked the others so he is the sole survivor. He uses his status as the the lone possessor of the scientific secrets as his bargaining chip to working with the Americans.

When Issue #6 rolls around we get a replay of that very same scene, but this time using the red/blue colour dichotomy. The scene then plays out in a slightly different fashion as we see one of the scientists, Helmutt, escaping the castle and being captured by the Soviets. The opening panel then is indicative of two separate characteristics the series has laid out – the blue/red colour scheme and the idea of duality. This even extends to the captions in the panel with the last one reading:
“All men have masters.”
This quote in itself is a sibling or twin to the quote from a few pages later:
“What man can serve two masters? Who would not be torn asunder by titans?”
Is this what the two colours in the opening panel represent? The concept of opposition itself? It’s surely no mistake that the cover to #6 features the hammer and sickle, whilst the cover to #2 features two lightning bolts, bringing up connotations of the symbol for the German SS. Fascism and Communism – two separate masters.

In Issue #6 when we’re inside the castle Von Braun himself is rendered in red. Later in the issue, when we see the two masters Helmutt has served (Von Braun and his new Soviet captors) Von Braun is rendered in blue, with the Russians in red. Why the switch in colour for Von Braun? Perhaps it’s making the point that Von Braun serves no master. His dedication is to the greater good. Science is his master, something he places far above any political or petty ideological standing.

A castle (in red) is structure – but a structure imposed onto the natural order of things. Red then perhaps signifies progress. In one of the earlier issues we see a flashback to the early life of General Groves. In it, his father discusses the notion of righteousness, and we see the bible laid out before them is rendered in red (the rest of the scenery and characters are blue). When we get a flashback to Feynman’s past we see his father about to dole out a punishment to the youngster. He is asked what to choose the ‘belt or the stick’ (check). Both are rendered in red.

Red is brutal, disruptive and necessary progress. So when we see the imposing structure of a castle over the German countryside in red, a swastika in red burnt into the forehead of a German scientist, or an evil (red) twin, tearing into the flesh of his more rational sibling we’re seeing change, we’re seeing the necessary evils of progress. These are the things that need to happen for men to reach loftier heights, for breakthroughs to happen and discoveries to be made. When Adolf Hitler appears in the earlier issues he’s bathed in blue. Mad men, dictators come and go. They have their power and they fight their wars, but they are soon cast aside by a world that decides enough is enough. The true sources of power are the brokers behind the scenes, those who operate in the shadows and operate in whispers and secrets. Those far outside and above political ideologies with singular pursuits – science, power, money. The details and who get hurt don’t matter. They know the price of progress.

John-Dahlberg perhaps coined it best:
“Great men are almost always bad men.”
The opening panel is a great encapsulation of this idea. Order, chaos. Nature, science. It speaks to the duality present in the series as a whole and the never ending attempts of man to master and harness mother nature.


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