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Letter 44: Escape Velocity (Oni Press, 2013; #1-6)

Letter 44.jpeg

Every outgoing president leaves the newly elected, incoming president a letter with a few words of advice.  Just before his inauguration, Stephen Blades reads his predecessor’s letter and learns about a clandestine space mission to investigate an alien structure.  As Blades struggles with what this knowledge means for his administration, the mission’s crew reaches their target and begins their investigation.

Charles Soule is one of the most consistent comic book writers working right now, and Letter 44 is no exception.  In fact, it gives him a chance to stretch his talents for writing both the fantastical and practical, legal matters.  Each of the two main narratives is engaging on its own, but looking for hints about how the exploration team’s findings will affect Blades’s administration—and how his decisions will impact the world’s reaction to their mission—is my favorite part of the book.

In contrast to Soule’s reasoned, logical approach to storytelling, Alburquerque’s lines are exaggerated and extreme.  It gives the book a sense of emotional excess—just about everyone outside of Blades skulks, shouts, or emotes like an over-the-top anime character.  That may sound counter-productive, but letting characters wear their emotions on their sleeves visually makes for an interesting, compelling tension between characters’ words and emotions.  That, in turn, feeds into the intrigue going on within Blades’s administration and onboard the Clarke.  Muted colors by Guy Major and Dan Jackson help to maintain a reserved tone despite over-the-top figurework.

This is not the first political drama-meets-alien investigation comic that I’ve read recently, but it does separate itself from the others.  A stronger focus on the demands of governing makes it a different kind of story than Deep State or Saucer Country.  While I enjoy the exploration team’s story, Blades’s struggles about what to do with his newfound knowledge and how to let it affect his administration ground the story in more specific terms.  And that’s what really hooks me.  The ongoing just wrapped up, and I look forward to catching up in trade.

Collected in

  • Letter 44, Vol. 1: Escape Velocity (#1-6)

Credits

Writer: Charles Soule | Artist: Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque | Colorists: Guy Major (1-3), Dan Jackson (4-6) | Letterer: Shawn DePasquale | Designer: Jason Storey | Editors: Jill Beaton, Robin Herrera

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