J. Robert Oppenheimer was an academic prodigy, a central figure in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and eventually an anguished scientist. On the front cover of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012), Oppenheimer’s eyes stare at the reader. An atomic-bomb cloud glares above. Readers of this title will stare as well; the visual energy on each page will rivet their eyes and minds on science, history, and the formidable powers inherent in ‘The Manhattan Project’ that created the first atomic bomb. Readers will be held in an imagistic grip, and will surely feel compelled to look at other comics and related media.
There are 152 rich and efficient pages in Fetter-Vorm’s comic about the development and use of the atomic bomb by the United States during a secretive, deadly campaign to force Japan’s World War II surrender. The sequential art makes many facets of this history accessible, and it includes images, terms, and historical figures that readers have likely encountered before in academia or in popular culture. These include ‘atomic fission,’ ‘nuclear chain reactions,’ Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, U. S. President Harry S. Truman, U. S. General Leslie Groves, Trinity, Los Alamos, and Hiroshima.
A particularly effective use of graphic panels, layout, and text boxes appears on page 49, where essential processes jigsaw together and the essence of “criticality” is explained:
Broad expanses of black and white on several pages of Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb represent the profundity of science and its ability to destroy peoples at war. The predominance of ashen gray backgrounds, however, illustrates the involvement of moral, ethical, and philosophical questions and uncertainties (i.e., ‘gray areas’). Two examples are “Does the need to end a war justify the propagation of phenomenal destruction?” and “How do common folk participate unknowingly in massive violence or other aggressions?”
It’s hard to look away from the science, history, possibilities, dilemmas, revelations, and cautionary tales in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. For further exploration in several media formats, start with these titles:
Bird, K. (2011). American Prometheus: The triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer [Electronic resource eBook]. New York, NY: Random House; available electronically via Overdrive.
Chute, H. L. (2016). Disaster drawn: Visual witness, comics, and documentary form [Comics format]. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University.
Gonick, L. (1991). The cartoon guide to physics [Comics format]. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.
O’Neal, M. (1990). President Truman and the atomic bomb: Opposing viewpoints [Print]. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven.
Pellegrino, C. R. (2014). The last train from Hiroshima: The survivors look back [Audiobook on CD]. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor.
Wells, H. G. (1914). The world set free: A story of mankind [Print]. New York, NY: E. P. Dutton. [This title is described on page 6 in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.]
World War II [Videorecording DVD]. (2005). [Place of publication not identified]: Komax Licensing.
Fetter-Vorm, J. (2012). Trinity: A graphic history of the first atomic bomb. New York, NY: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.