The original The Manhattan Projects was a really weird comic. There were two Einsteins, one from another dimension. FDR’s consciousness got downloaded into a super-computer. Harry Truman was in some sort of murderous, orgiastic cult. The spinoff series, The Sun Beyond the Stars, is also really weird. It has the same sense of anarchic insanity that writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra brought to the original series, but it’s also a bit simpler in its structure.
It follows two characters from the original series on their adventures into space: Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and his dog Laika. Sounds pretty standard (considering the characters are alternate universe versions of the first man and animal to orbit Earth), but it took a sharp turn from harmless adventure story to possible love story the moment alien technology made Laika, a female, humanoid. Most comics would probably steer clear of anything even remotely suggesting bestiality, but The Manhattan Projects just might be crazy enough to actually go for it. The previous two issues reunited the literally star-crossed lovers cosmonauts, but it wasn’t quite the occasion Yuri expected because Laika is a little bitter about how long it took him to find her. It’s a classic set up that the third issue only seems to advance—though that’s admittedly not it or the comic’s main focus.
If there’s one downside to both series’ overall strangeness, it’s a lack of focus. Sometimes it feels as if Hickman is so busy wallowing in the world he’s created that it’s difficult to follow the characters’ core emotional or intellectual narratives. Sometimes it’s even difficult to understand exactly what overall story Hickman wants to tell through the sci-fi milieu. This issue finds our characters still evading various hostile alien governments, but it’s not entirely clear to what end. It’s also harder to engage with these alien rulers and rules because they are–by definition–unfamiliar to the reader. There was at least some reference point to the skewed Cold War politics of the original series. Like, this issue begins with one of the conquering alien rulers forcing his subjects to lick his toes for hours in order to gain knowledge. It’s a moment that will probably never have any larger narrative meaning beyond this issue.
Look, The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond the Stars is undeniably an f’d up read, but it’s also one of the most singular books in comics. This is a world where the only satisfying narrative outcome is for a guy to hook up with his anthropomorphized dog for Christ’s sake. That’s horrifying, but it’s also symptomatic of the fact that the best way to enjoy the series is to just go with how insane it is. And there’s something to be said for a comic that is completely and wonderfully unpredictable.
By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.