By: Charles Soule (story), Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque (art), Guy Major (colors)

The Story: Yet another reason to dread getting snail mail.

The Review: This is not the place for me to get political, and I won’t, but I will say that I’ve never taken the president’s job for granted.  Whatever my opinions on certain policy decisions are, I always feel sorry for the man* who has to make that call.  Call me a foolish believer in the innate goodness of humanity, but I tend to think that even when the consequences seem disastrous, the intentions behind a presidential decision are for the country’s best interest.

In a similar vein, Soule presents a fictional U.S. presidency with obvious parallels to the one we all know so well.  You have newly elected Stephen Blades, running on a platform of openness and change in contrast to the departing Francis T. Carroll’s “eight years of war and economic uncertainty.”  During his time in office, Carroll apparently led the country into conflicts based on faulty information (“Your side had a field day when the WMD thing fell through.”) and developed a reputation for not being the brightest bulb in the room (holding up Carroll’s letter, Stephen’s advisor remarks, “You think it’s written in crayon?”).

But any similarities to and resulting judgments on actual presidents end once Stephen reads Carroll’s final presidential letter and discovers his predecessor’s actions were not all they seemed.  The fact that Carroll had the duty to respond to unknown, technologically sophisticated activity in the asteroid belt casts all his perceived missteps in a new light and affords Stephen no opportunity to savor his victory before testing his values with a potential crisis.

Soule leaves us with no question that Stephen is sincere in his ideals, but foreshadows that Stephen will eventually have to make the hard choice of taking the less-than-ideal course.  While he makes it clear that exposing this extraterrestrial problem to the American people is “very high on his agenda,” you can see by the look exchanged between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of Defense (who have been in on the secret since Carroll’s time) that public disclosure is on the opposite end of their agenda.

And it’s not entirely clear that their need for secrecy is entirely well-intentioned either.  Carroll’s letter describes the space activity as a “mining or construction operation,” but after that simply assumes the implications are hostile.  With no hard evidence as to what’s actually going on, he tosses around all kinds of presumptively hawkish statements: “They haven’t attempted to make contact…  [S]omething’s up there building a gun,” and, “We sent a mission into space to see what those bastards are up to.”

Yet the discovery made by the crew of the Clarke (an interstellar spacecraft built and manned specifically to investigate the asteroid belt phenomenon) at the issue’s end does suggest that going on the defensive was the prudent choice after all.  The timing of the discovery, in narrative terms, couldn’t be hastier.  Having only just introduced us and Stephen to the ongoing conflict, and with most of the characters aboard the Clarke being no more than names, it seems like an unnecessary rush on Soule’s part to show the big cards so early on.  It’s always dicey for a reviewer to gripe about missed opportunities, but in this case, the revelation saps much of the investment you might otherwise have for the a big set of the title’s protagonists.

When you first see Alburquerque’s name, you can’t help getting excited, only to realize it’s not Raphael we’re talking about, either in name or substance.  Alburquerque’s art has its moments, the last-page reveal being one of them, but overall it’s inappropriately cartoonish in contrast to the gravitas of Soule’s script.  It’s the squashy, exaggerated stuff you might expect of a teen title, and it does not have the inspiration or energy necessary to enliven the stream of talking heads that fill the issue.

Conclusion: Sci-fi eccentricities notwithstanding, Soule clearly plans to tackle the tension between doing the right thing and doing the effective thing in the series.  While he has the craft and thought to pull it off, his script is unsuitably manhandled by Alburquerque’s juvenile art.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * And potentially woman—fingers crossed, folks!

– The nice thing about skipping past the years the Clarke has already spent in space is that we get all the obligatory science-versus-military conflict out of the way, sealed by Dr. Charlotte Hayden and Colonel Jack Overholt’s relationship and child.

– And the award for Most Effectively Cynical Line goes to Major Gabriel Drum: “What he is, is irrelevant.  If takes half an hour for him to answer a question.  The only help we’ll get out here will be from God.”