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

The Story: The presidency’s falling apart, aliens are invading, and worst of all, people are not getting enough sex.

The Review: If you were amused by the parallels between the outgoing Carroll administration in #1 and the most recent Bush administration, you’ll be tickled pink by the similarities Stephen Blades shares with Barack Obama as to the early days of their presidencies: “Bailing out the banks and giving loans to the auto companies,” when he actually intended “to have Guantanamo closed by now, and have a real plan to be out of at least one of the wars.”

Fun, though the purpose of all this isn’t quite clear.  Maybe Soule, unable to make up more credible presidential acts, just decided to poach from reality.  Maybe he wanted to make an indirect comment about Obama’s legacy, that the perception of him as a ditherer was caused by events and forces beyond his control and the public’s knowledge.  Either way, Soule is setting Stephen on the same trajectory towards disappointment that his real-world counterpart suffered.  The question is whether that course can be averted in fiction any more easily than in fact.

If there’s one advantage to a fictional life, it’s the ability of characters to play out our own wishful thinking.  Elijah Green, Stephen’s chief of staff, claims his boss’ problems have “an easy solution,” which boils down to spilling everything to the American people.  Simple, idealistic, and actually quite sensible, as it once again scapegoats Carroll and allows Stephen to act freely.  Elijah’s proposal seems even more reasonable in contrast to the single-minded roadblocks the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff* throws up.  The Chairman’s meeting with Elijah is an opportunity for Soule to lay out the military, political, and ideological considerations of total honesty with the public, but instead he casts the conflict as purely one between diehard supporters of the previous and incumbent regimes.

Given that Elijah basically takes a piss all over the Chairman’s agenda (which he ruthlessly synonymizes with Carroll’s agenda), and the Chairman’s Godfather-like reaction to it, it’s not surprising that—spoiler alert—Elijah gets bumped off at a urinal, suddenly and ingloriously.  The only surprise is the timing of his death; this soon after his big push against the military establishment, his boss is unlikely to make the connection to the last man Elijah pissed off.  The more critical question is whether he can do anything about it.  Will a secret assignment to the FBI be enough to root out the fungus within the entire U.S. military network?  That’s a lot of juggling Stephen’s taking on, and it’s hard not to see the metaphor at work when he distractedly misses a ball during a game of catch with his son, leading to a broken window in the White House.  “We just made history,” he jokes.  Some joke.

The brilliance of Letter 44 (and its predecessor, Saucer Country) is its ability to balance the political intrigue of Earth with the space opera dramatics taking place on the Clarke.  Besides the practical disadvantages, the crew encounters typical problems of sex deprivation, the death of one of their own,* and of course, how to respond to their extraterrestrial neighbors.  Despite an inadvertent communication between them, the dynamic of the humans and aliens remains up in the air, unwilling to settle on conflict or exploration.  Perhaps next issue’s “little visit” to the foreigners will resolve all that.

I don’t want to turn these reviews into an endless diatribe against Alburquerque, so I’ll just say that all my earlier criticisms about his art apply equally to this issue and move on.  I will say that in spite of the harsh, garish features of the characters and their physical shape, Alburquerque does know how to play up a moment of action when the script calls for it.  Willett and Kyoko’s sex scene, for example, is a convincing moment of passion, even if it lacks the beauty a more dramatic artist might have been able to produce.

Conclusion: The moving parts work fine, but at the moment are only capable of producing a rather simple tune for a premise of this scale.

Grade: B-

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * It appears Rowan, verbally introduced as part of the Clarke’s roll call when Blades first made contact but who’s been physically missing from the series since, is no longer with the crew.  Did the Joint Chiefs purposely deceive Stephen on that point, or are they also in the dark about it?

– Charlotte is “spoken for” by Pritchard and Overholt?  Hoo-ee!  Racy lady!