Monday, 5 May 2014

Letter 44, Volume 1 Review (Charles Soule, Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque)


What if…

Aliens are real and are much closer to us than we thought. NASA have discovered what looks like a massive alien mining operation in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter but we don’t know whether the aliens are hostile or friendly - or even whether they’re mining or preparing to invade! A team of nine volunteers made up of scientists and special forces left Earth three years ago on a one-way mission to make first contact. No-one but the highest ranking officials in the US government know about any of this - the public are not to know to avoid panic and hysteria. 

And what if the real reason why George W. Bush started so many wars, was not to fight some abstract “war on terror” but in preparation for a potential alien invasion? And what if Obama found all of this out on the eve of his inauguration in a letter from the 43rd President of the United States to the 44th? 

Welcome to Letter 44. 

Obviously writer Charles Soule hasn’t used Bush or Obama’s names but those characters are basically facsimiles of their real life counterparts. Francis T Carroll is an unpopular rich old white Republican president leaving behind a damning legacy that incoming youngish/handsome and Latin Democrat president Stephen Blades must reverse. 

Letter 44 is basically two stories - the one on Earth where we follow Blades’ first days in office, being told the incredible truth behind his predecessors’ actions while also trying to kickstart his policies; and the other is set on the spaceship Clarke as they get ever closer to the colossal alien spacecraft that may or may not be their doom - and what will they find? 

You’d think the space storyline would be more enthralling but Soule writes both stories so well that they’re equally fascinating. This could really be two separate comics and I’d be reading them both - with one you’ve got the West Wing crossed with Breaking Bad (and how awesome does that sound!), and with the other you’ve got the space story that’s part Danny Boyle’s Sunshine crossed with Kubrick’s 2001 with some ‘60s counter culture beliefs mixed in. You’ve got to read this to believe it. 

Blades realises that the old administration and possibly some of his own agencies are working against him in a conspiracy that looks to usurp his presidency, while, in space, Soule teases out bits and pieces of the aliens - not by revealing what they look like - but hinting at what they could be, by sending some of the Clarke on an away mission to a nearby asteroid commandeered by the aliens. 

Soule masterfully tells his amazing story so that you’re never bored while reading it, and are always stimulated - the plot races ahead without tripping itself up while also ensuring readers know the characters and their lives. It’s a helluva juggling act!

Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque’s art is fabulous! I enjoyed his artwork in space the best - the alien spacecraft and technology, the less-flashy tech of the Clarke itself, and the way he frames space so that you’re always aware of where the Clarke is in relation to the alien vessel. Really, all of his art is outstanding - he’s as comfortable drawing a scene in a fast food restaurant on Earth as he is drawing… well, I won’t give that away, but it’s pretty outlandish stuff! Soule’s visionary story is perfected matched with his partner’s soaring imagination and tremendous skill. Together they make a formidable creative team. 

Not only is Letter 44 an original and totally inspired story but Soule and Alburquerque have crafted it into a rich, compelling narrative with enormous potential. It’s too early to start throwing around the word “masterpiece” but based on the high quality of the first volume, there’s every chance this series will become just that. Don’t miss this remarkable comic!

Letter 44: Volume 1

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