What better way to give someone an upward trajectory than to hurl them towards rock bottom? Last issue, we saw the Manhattan Projects team splinter off into smaller subsets (Ares, Vulcan, Gaia, and Charon), and this time around, we get to see that everyone is more vulnerable when the team is fragmented.
Everyone in the cast is a little bit worse for the wear by the time this issue opens, and exponentially so by its conclusion. It's rough to see these characters in fully vulnerable situations -- von Braun's deteriorating physical condition, Yuri's sense of loss and fear over Laika's imminent danger, Einstein's heavier drinking and confession of weakness, Ustinov's physical displacement and exposure to air -- because they can't shine as the geniuses they are, and they can barely keep themselves alive. (It's also rough because Pitarra and Bellaire give these weaknesses such a raw quality, von Braun's arm especially.)
On the surface, this can be attributed to a changing of the guard outside of the Projects, but since we know that this team of geniuses has always been tougher than any political or military interlopers, there's an inside link. Oppenheimer, the orchestrator of the team's effective disarming, is, himself, being attacked from within. It's a pitch-perfect illustration of Hickman's ability to make the micro and macro stories mirrors of each other, and it forces us to look more closely at what's happening on both levels. As Oppenheimer overloads and degrades, so the team is burdened, fragmented, and taken down. And yet, he is the one to tell us that there's so much work to be done, so we know that he -- and the team -- will be following suit with the issue's title and aiming upward.
Much like the team, the book struggles to accomplish much when it's fragmented, so Issue #14 feels like it packs less of a punch than some others. It's also a bit of a set-up for #15, with a great deal of change that lacks either confrontation or resolution. That said, I think it lays some serious groundwork, and is more nuanced than it appears on first read, so it's not one to skip.
MANHATTAN PROJECTS remains one of my favorite series in publication right now; it's so fantastically different from everything else, and it's a fine showcase for the talents of Hickman, Pitarra, Bellaire, and Wooton. Issue #14 feels like a bit of a transitional issue, setting everyone in a precarious situation that promises to be resolved (for better or worse) later, but it's a necessary build towards #15, which closes out the volume.