The thing about a Jonathan Hickman-penned comic is that it feels structured. You never get the feeling that the writer has lost control of his comic, or that he's biding his time or letting the plot stretch out. This isn't to say that most writers just spew scenes onto the page and hope to hit an ending eventually, but rather that Hickman consciously tells his stories in ways that feel better prepared and managed. It feels that way with both his scene-to-scene storytelling as with his scripts' structures. With "The Manhattan Projects," for example, he always starts with an opening scene before a quote and a two page title spread. The final page always forms a good cliffhanger to bring you back for the next issue. Everything in between forms a coherent whole.
In many ways, this should be Comics Writing 101, but it is something instead the helps set this series apart on the shelves from everything else. This tenth issue kicks off a new storyline, set inside the crazed mind of Joseph Oppenheimer after the events that lead to his cannibalism of his brother, Robert. Readers are following Robert now in a tour inside Joseph's mind. It is a fractured, highly metaphorical place. It's filled with alternate versions of Oppenheimer in worlds filled with temples, stone sculptures of Oppenheimer's face and even a landscape of Oppenheimer's exposed brain. Robert, at first off-kilter and a little weirded out by the whole thing, quickly takes control of the situation and, as the final page says, "the Oppenheimer Civil War began."
The issue is a change of pace for the series, told mostly in captions like a guided tour. The story is focused strictly on one character, without the rest of the ensemble that grew so large over the course of the first nine issues.
Ryan Browne's art fits in nicely enough with the look that Nick Pitarra established in the series thus far. It's a little more angular and a tad stiffer, but he excels at drawing the fantasy world imaginings of the Brothers Oppenheimer. You can't deny the creative streak that's on display in every page. If nothing else, you will believe an Oppenheimer can punch a horse, or that dozens of mini-Oppenheimers can dance on a bloody brain.
Jordie Bellaire's coloring keeps things consistent, right down to the opening solid blues and reds of the callback to the death of Robert Oppenheimer. She's a rare coloring talent who can "color key" a comic book page without making it look flat or muddy. In the imaginary world of Oppenheimer's mind, her spot colors fit the mood and the feel, without being over-rendered to make up for the limited palette.
The issue is a departure from the usual tone of the series, and we'll have to see what the following issues bring to see if this is a good move or not. Will it fall into the trap of being an "imaginary" story because it's set in someone's mind? Will any sort of structure or world-building rules come into play to keep storytelling tension high?
As an introduction to the landscape of the Oppenheimer mind, it's effective, but leaves me anxious for what might come next. Pitarra's art is missed, though Browne is a solid fill-in fit, with the regular team of Bellaire and letterer Rus Wooton handling the rest of the final book's look and feel.