Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb
written by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm
The months of research and testing for atomic weapons, which had started out of curiosity by the world’s most brilliant minds, led to the momentous and terrible bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This critical period in modern history is expertly detailed in Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s brilliant debut graphic novel, Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.
Trinity is a historical, scientific, and largely nonfiction work, with dialogue between historical figures taken primarily from first-hand written accounts of the events to preserve historical accuracy. The early part of the novel is focused primarily on the discovery of the atom and radioactive elements through the works of Pierre and Marie Curie, Niels Bohr, Ernest Rutherford, Otto Hahn, and Fritz Strassmann. Large and often confusing concepts and processes, such as the nuclear fission, uranium enrichment, and the construction of an atomic bomb, are broken down into using detailed yet easy to follow illustrations and concise language. The bold leadership of the troubled genius J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie Groves is laid out with exquisite clarity, highlighting the painstaking efforts taken to keep information from leaking, the magnitude of the operation, as well as their attempts to keep the project on schedule. Though the beginning of the novel is rather heavy on the side of scientific fact, Fetter-Vorm’s highly detailed black-and-white art is often filled with dynamic imagery and emotional portraits of the scientists, which in turn keeps readers hooked.
The suspense comes to a boiling point with the Trinity test—the first detonation of a nuclear explosion out in the deserts of New Mexico. Fetter-Vorm’s illustrations of the nuclear blast are stark and eerie, with only small clips of text printed on otherwise entirely black pages and a quote from the test, saying, “It was not yet a bomb. It was not yet a symbol of the apocalypse. It was not yet a part of our world. In these fractions of a second, the atomic light was still as timeless and indifferent as the universe itself.” This moment in the novel is breathless, foreboding, and told with enough literary expertise to emphasize the importance of this revolutionary, Frankenstinian event.
After the Trinity test, the story moves on to explain the historical significance of the bomb, and shows rather painstakingly, the horrors of the bomb and World War II as a whole. In what is perhaps the most moving sequence of the novel, two Japanese boys are subject to unspeakable horror in Nagasaki when the bomb is detonated. One of the boys is severely burned in a panel that spans across two pages, and wanders through the streets of Nagasaki, witnessing the contorted and charred remains of thousands of people and the utter destruction brought on by the bomb. Without the use of a heavy-handed “the-bomb-is-bad” spiel, Fetter-Vorm successfully issues a sense of urgency about the dangers of nuclear war, and the regret and shame faced by many of the bomb’s developers following its use on Japanese civilians.
Trinity offers a complete and carefully researched picture of the Manhattan Project from inception to completion. What is perhaps the greatest achievement of this novel is its ability to prove to naysayers—men and women who believe that the graphic novel format is below them or sophomoric—that a nonfiction work published in this format can be informative, artistically compelling and entertaining all at once. Teachers take note: Though this work stands on its own for pleasure reading, its uses could be extended to a classroom setting as an alternative text for history, English, or science classes, for an enjoyable and intelligent read.