On the day of his inauguration, Stephen Blades, the 44th president, finds a letter left on his Oval Office desk simply marked “44.” In it, outgoing President Carroll reveals a dark secret that he’s kept throughout his administration. An alien presence has been detected in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. And the beings there are building some sort of massive and potentially threatening structure.
President Carroll (obviously “inspired” by George W. Bush) has dragged the United States into two protracted wars and nearly broken the back of the country in the process. Now incoming President Blades learns to his horror that these wars were largely a ruse for achieving combat readiness for a possible alien attack. He also learns that, besides there being a deep black ops program for building next-gen military technology for confronting a possible alien menace, a secret one-way mission, with nine astronauts, has been dispatched by Carroll to the asteroid belt and will be arriving at the site of the alien construct soon. “Mr. President, they’re ready for your swearing in.”
And so begins the thrilling and surprisingly complex and tense ride that is Letter 44. Author Charles Soule and artists Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque, Guy Major, and Dan Jackson do an impressive job of creating a rich and layered world within this satisfying sci-fi comic series. The book confidently lays the interleaving stories of the first contact space drama, the cutthroat politics on the home front, and the geopolitical dramas as President Blades tries to carry on with two wars he now knows are shams and to prepare for a potential war coming from the stars. Cross 2001: A Space Odyssey with House of Cards (with a pinch of ol’ Heinleinian polyamory thrown in for spice) and you get some idea of what Letter 44 feels like. Letter 44, Volume 1: Escape Velocity sets up the entire chessboard that gets dramatically played out over the two other volumes to date (Volume 2: Red Shift and Volume 3: Dark Matter). If you read Volume 1 and enjoy it, your ride has just begun. There’s a brilliant reveal in Red Shift which caught me by surprise and made me love this series even more.
The covers to these book are gorgeous color foil and the artwork inside has a kind of crisp and vivid intensity that I think perfectly renders the fear, suspense, and futility of the story. And besides Soule doing an admirable job of covering a war on three fronts (homeland, global, space), he also doesn’t shy away from dealing with the emotional and sexual complexities of the characters in the trenches of each of these conflicts. There’s a lot going on here and lots of places to get potentially lost, but Letter 44 never lets up, never falters. I found this an extremely satisfying work of original, sweeping science fiction in comic book form.
Letter 44, Vol. 1: Escape Velocity
by Charles Soule (author) and Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque, Guy Major, and Dan Jackson (illustrators)
ONI Press Inc
2014, 144 pages, 6.6 x 10 x 0.5 inches (softcover)