In August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs, the very first of their kind, on two cities in Japan – Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation was immediate and horrific, with people and things being literally reduced to ash. As some Americans celebrated the use of this ultimate bomb, there were others who debated its usage from a position of creator, maker, and scientist. In the years leading up to the creation of the bomb, the United States was in the throes of World War II and these creators and scientists came together in complete secrecy and figurative darkness to construct this ultimate destroyer. What was the process that led to the development of our atomic bomb, who were the scientists, and what was our ultimate motivation? Additionally, what were the repercussions, and was it the right thing to do? What triggered the chain reaction that led to nuclear energy and destruction taking over the world?
In his very first graphic novel, author and illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm takes readers on an intense journey. With the discovery of the process of fission by two German scientists came fear and concern about taking the next step, a step that would ultimately lead to death and destruction. Although the United States government did see the significance of the concern, it was, nonetheless, moved into congressional committees, where it languished until December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the United States suddenly moved the development of the world’s first atomic bomb up to the top of their to-do list. Now called The Manhattan Project, money was procured, scientists were recruited, and locations were sought in the race to develop this new weapon of destruction before anyone else had the chance to notice.
As the years passed, the production of an actual atomic bomb was brought to fruition twice. Those who were recruited to work on development were often kept in the dark about what their actual work was. They, along with their families, were housed on secret bases that were built around the county – the most prominent being the production site and virtual town built in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Yet, as much as this story is a historical narrative, it is also a science lesson, as readers not only learn about the history of the bomb, but also how it was made in the first place. Nuclear fission, atoms, neutrons, electrons, protons – all that complicated stuff (for my eyes, at least) – is explained to the reader in a most wonderful way. Fetter-Vorm takes this extremely complicated scientific process and explains it in an exceptionally understandable manner using basic, real world examples. Within this highly technical story of uranium and plutonium lies an interesting story of human beings, their ability to create as well as their ability to feel happiness and distress at the thought of their own creation.
Fetter-Vorm’s story and accompanying illustrations form a perfect collaboration of words and pictures that bring the incredibly complicated world of nuclear reaction and physics, as well as history and human emotions, to life for the reader in an amazingly understandable way. Drawings are black and white line drawings with a good amount of gray shading; the simple nature of these drawings is a perfect accompaniment to the complicated nature of the subject material. The drawings are crisp, sharp, and highly detailed. The cast of characters is very elaborate, but they are easily distinguished throughout Fetter-Vorm’s skilled illustrations. Readers will experience the different characters’ feelings, good and bad, and they will go on a roller coaster of a story that unfortunately ends in death and chaos. This engaging nonfiction graphic novel will captivate readers of all kinds, even those who might protest that they are not interested or don’t understand scientific study. Not only will readers get a complete and tremendous history lesson, they will also question their own thoughts on the matter and the decisions that were ultimately made. This is an absolutely wonderful addition to the growing number of graphic nonfiction titles.