Letter 44 Vol. 1 (Oni Press)

Letter 44 Volume #1
CREDIT: Oni Press

Rating: 4.5/5 – A Political Thriller with a Healthy Dose of Science Fiction.
by ComicSpectrum reviewer Adam Alamo.

On his first day in office, newly-elected President Stephen Blades takes charge of a nation embroiled in two wars, an economy on the brink of collapse, and a failing healthcare system. Sound familiar? Well, don’t get too comfortable as that familiarity ends when President Blades opens a letter left by his predecessor. The letter details that seven years prior NASA discovered an alien presence in a nearby asteroid field, where they appear to be building an unidentified structure for an unknown purpose. Keeping this knowledge a secret from the public, the president nearly bankrupts the country and ramps up the war effort as a catalyst to develop advanced military technology and train soldiers for what may be an eventual alien invasion. He also sends nine astronauts on a mission to space to discover what these aliens are building and whether or not they are threat to Earth. President Blades is sworn into office just as these astronauts are about to make first contact.

Letter 44 Vol. 1 collects issues 1-6 of Charles Soule’s creator-owned book that is part political thriller and part science fiction. It was the political thriller part of the book that really surprised me. In the hands of any other writer, I would expect this type of book to be straight up science fiction, devoting most, if not all, of its time to the looming alien threat. Instead, attorney-by-day Charles Soule turns your average alien invasion into an enthralling political story as President Blades comes to grips with this new reality and weaves his way through the opening days of his presidency. Foul play runs amok as agents of the prior administration go to lengths to ensure the status quo and I had at least three jaw dropping moments that had nothing to do with aliens. It could be argued that working for the Blades Administration is more dangerous than a mission into outer space! Suffice to say, in a medium where science fiction, superheroes, and fantasy drive the market, I found the political part of this story the most intriguing.

That’s not to say that the other half of the story is any less captivating. The astronauts face numerous challenges as they approach the aliens and eventually make contact. Not all of these challenges are external, as the crew of nine (really eight, but that’s a plot point yet to be addressed) deal with their own interpersonal issues. It’s tough to get to know a large cast over several months of a comic’s release, so this is one advantage of a collected edition. Nevertheless, Soule does a decent job of fleshing out the characters and making them distinct enough for now. Future issues will hopefully continue to develop this crew. The aliens are not at all what I expected, which is a good thing. If I had to describe first contact with them, I would say it was like meeting floating geometry in a surreal painting. Granted, geometry was never this deadly, despite the opinions of my 14 year-old self. The astronauts investigate these aliens with vigor and I suspect we have only just scratched the surface of what they are and what they are planning. The pacing to the eventual reveal was just right, though I admit that I continually and selfishly urged the astronauts to dive in and learn more.

Letter 44 is my first experience with the art of Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque. He has a unique style that took some getting used to, but has become as much a part of the story as political power plays and geometrical aliens. It is with the latter that his ridged, angular lines plays especially well, though to be fair most of the book deals with ordinary folks in ordinary locales. Though I find it unlikely to happen in this book, I would love to see Alburquerque tackle some muscular, sinewy monsters or superheroes. I think this young artist is definitely one to look out for.

This first volume of Letter 44 is a political thriller wrapped in a cloak of science fiction. Whereas Soule could have easily turned this into a shoot ‘em up, us versus them story a la any number of similar books or movies, he’s instead pulled away the curtain to show us how those who pull the strings might react. The answer is, not surprisingly, politics as usual. The series is currently on issue #8, so there is time to pick up this first volume and get caught up for the second story arc, which I can tell you has doubled down on every premise introduced in this volume.

Reviewed by: Adam Alamo
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