Monday, 2 February 2015

Letter 44, Volume 2: Redshift Review (Charles Soule, Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque)


The setup for the series: the first non-white President of the United States, Blades, inherits war in the Middle East and an economy in free fall. He learns from former President Carroll in a letter that the reason for the wars and the financial meltdown has to do with a massive secret: there are aliens camped out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and they’re assembling what looks to be a giant weapon or mining tool. A ship - the Clarke - was dispatched years ago to make contact with the aliens and has only just reached them. But are they peaceful - or hostile? 

Letter 44 Volume 2: Redshift answers a lot of questions. We get to see the aliens for the first time, discover their intentions - which flat out changes the entire perspective of the series - and we see what their enormous machine, nicknamed the Chandelier, is capable of. I’m not going to tell you what they look like or where the series is headed but writer Charles Soule pulls the rug from under the reader with these reveals and it’s BRILLIANT! 

What’s even more amazing about Letter 44 is that it has two great stories running parallel to each other. So while you’ve got this terrific sci-fi tale of aliens and spacecraft and laser guns going on, back on Earth it’s like House of Cards with Blades unravelling conspiracies within his government while traitors threaten to start World War 3. Seriously! Again I don’t want to spoil this part for anyone else but what a shocker - first THAT happens in Afghanistan to the futuristic tech that was supposed to win the war in 90 days and then THAT happens in Germany?! This volume packs one helluva double-whammy of a finale! 

As you can tell I’m incredibly impressed with Soule’s plotting and the primary focus is on story but the characters are also well-written and compelling. Blades becomes more and more a fleshed out, believable President, his wife also gets some time in the spotlight, while the crew of the Clarke continue to shine. The villain of the piece, ex-President Carroll, manages to become even more sinister in this volume too. 

A couple of minor problems stuck out for me, like military protocol on checking civilians’ bags before allowing them inside a perimeter - isn’t that required for any and all personnel? - and there’s a confusing panel where it looks like the alien scout ships fired on the Clarke but it’s said that they didn’t. I’m not quite sure what to make of that. But those bumps don’t take away from the enjoyment of the book. 

Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque’s artwork is great in this volume too. His figures are very fluid and kinetic, and I love the alien designs - familiar but different. The inside of their vessel, or at least part of it, even looks to make sense in a weird way. His design for the new helicopters though did seem like a ripoff of the Command and Conquer Orcas. 

I’ve done my best to keep spoilers out of this review, partly for its intended purpose of keeping the surprises intact, but because there’d be no point mentioning them. It would just be me saying “I loved it when this happened, and I loved it when this character did that, and this scene, and that scene, etc.” It’s not that layered a book, it’s just a great story which, in its telling, feels very much like a rollercoaster - Soule takes you up, drops you down and then takes you back up, and so on. It’s such a fun read! 

That’s all you really need to know: Letter 44 Volume 2, and Volume 1 for that matter, is an awesome story. It’s easily one of the most exciting and original I’ve read in years. Volume 2 develops it into an impossibly even better series that looks to expand into an even bigger, more enthralling story. Definitely check this series out if you haven’t already - this is recommended reading to every single comics fan out there! 

And I love that Freddie Mercury is alive and well in this world and that Queen are still touring. Gimme, gimme, gimme, fried chicken!

Letter 44, Volume 2: Redshift

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