Nothing goes as expected on the inaugural morning of the 44th President of the United States, Stephen Blades’, first term. He expected difficulties… partisan politics, economic recovery, two wars overseas, and the need to manage transparency and accountability against safety and secrecy. But nothing would have prepared him for the truth of the situation.
He enters the oval office and is greeted with a letter marked 44. Inside it, outgoing President Carroll admits that the economic instability, fear and war mongering of the last near decade have served one purpose… to hide an Alien construction being built in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter from the public, and prepare secret advances in military technology in case their reason for being there isn’t friendly.
In addition, a team of soldiers and scientists had been sent out into space aboard the Clarke, a secret long voyage space vessel, towards the mysterious space construction 3 years ago. They were scheduled to arrive near the unknown construction very soon.
Letter 44 is a fantastic mix of political and Sci-Fi drama and suspense. On Earth, President Blades is forced to come to terms weighing petty political policies against a secret, unknown, global potential threat. In space, the crew of the Clarke have spent years floating in a tin can, building a small community of their own, waiting to deal with, presumably, a previously unimagined intelligence.
Generally I can’t stand mixing Sci-Fi and politics. I hated Contact, Deep Space 9 and Babylon 5. Anything more than a nod towards the frustrating bureaucracy we’ve created here on Earth usually leaves me bored and restless. But, for the most part, Letter 44 borrows from the best of these two genres, and the mash-up mostly comes out feeling fresh and original.
Charles Soule is becoming one of my favourite authors in comics, I think. He’s 2 for 2 in what I’ve read of him, anyway–this and She-Hulk. I enjoy his dialogue. He has a way with jargon, be it legal or techno-babble, he makes his characters sound (to me, the layman, at least) very knowledgeable, and believable. His stories are well crafted, and even when he uses age-old tropes, they still manage to feel surprising, and/or original to me.
The art in the book is really solid. I wasn’t familiar with Alberto Alburquerque before reading this book, but I’d definitely check out more of his work in the future.
If I had one gripe about this book it’s that the Clarke doesn’t feel nearly as cramped as I imagine it should/would be. By no means does it feel like a vast, empty cathedral or anything. The Clarke looks cold and uncomfortable, but within the grounded, “real world” setting that Soule and Alburqueruque seem to be trying to create it still came across to me as being a bit too large.
Regardless, Letter 44 comes highly recommended by me, especially for fans of Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina or movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien or Deep Impact. Yes, that’s right. I enjoyed Deep Impact.