Bomb (Graphic Novel)

I recently finished reading the graphic novel Bomb, written by Steve Sheinkin and illustrated by Nick Bertozzi. It was recommended to me months ago by my friend Mark (who almost always has excellent recommendations). So, I immediately put in a request with my local library — and it just came to be my turn this week.

Bomb (Graphic Novel)

I don’t often read graphic novels. And as I read through the book, I genuinely wondered, “What makes a graphic novel different from a comic book?” Because it has much of the same look and feel. Even many of the same quirky conventions — like the funny onomatopoeic “sound effects.” So, like any curious citizen of the 21st Century, I looked up the answer on the internet and learned, that “a graphic novel contains a beginning, middle, and end;” whereas a comic book is generally a “serialized excerpt from a larger narrative.”

Anyway, in this graphic novel, the action centers around the history of the Manhattan Project and the transition from the end of the Second World War to the beginning of the Cold War. It follows the action involved in researching and developing the first atomic bomb, plus all of the layers of espionage to protect / acquire trade secrets.

In this, I quickly discovered that it covers a lot of the same ground that was covered in this summer’s blockbuster film Oppenheimer. However, the stories don’t completely overlap. For instance, the film uses the Congressional hearings about alleged ties between Manhattan Project director J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Communist Party as a significant storytelling device, while the graphic novel doesn’t reference these hearings at all. And the graphic novel includes an interesting sidebar about Norwegian resistance fighters sabotaging the Nazi scientists’ work to develop their own atomic weapon. Otherwise, there were some startling similarities between the two works. Even on the visual level, which is surprising considering the fact that one is a live-action film and the other is a graphic novel.

Bomb (Graphic Novel)

All that to say: Bomb was an entertaining complement to Oppenheimer. I appreciated the the extra angles on the story. And I especially appreciated the way that the graphic novel format allowed for quick cuts to scenes that would be much harder to re-create in other formats, like the moment where the bomb is falling from the Air Force bomber onto Hiroshima.

I don’t know if there were any particularly profound insights in this treatment of the history. But I noticed that some of J. Robert Oppenheimer’s concerns and questions about the future of warfare seemed somewhat resonant with the current conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Human nature points to inevitable escalation of conflict, and once a new weapon is unleashed upon the world it’s incredibly difficult to contain it. There’s no “happy ending” for a story like this one. But it’s valuable to understand the story and the way that it continues to reverberate today.

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