By: Charles Soule (story), Alberto Jiménez Alburquerque (art), Dan Jackson (colors)

The Story: Intellectual curiosity kills the scientist.

The Review: Soule is no dummy, so I can’t believe that he doesn’t have some purpose in making Letter 44’s former President Carroll as easily analogized to the real former President Bush as he has. It’s possible some of Soule’s political prejudices are coming into play here, but more clearly, Soule is using the conspiracy theories revolving around Bush as fictional fertilizer, giving life to these paranoid speculations for their pure, dramatic value.

Here, Soule goes well beyond the wildest dreams of all but the most extreme theorists, portraying Carroll as not only a bitter voice from the past administration, but an ominous presence who may have his hand in Stephen’s current presidential troubles. As I understand it, it’s not atypical for an ex-president to retain a security detail even after he leaves the White House. But how common is it for him to reside in a secret White House replica located in a southwestern canyon and replete with former SEALs and SpecOps? What does that exactly say about him?

Once Carroll is revealed as the man behind all this craziness, you’re only left with two choices as to what to make of him: either he’s a military nut driven by suspicion/paranoia, or he’s got a bigger plan for all these resources. The White House facsimile implies a lot, doesn’t it? Doesn’t this, along with the brazen disloyalty of the Joint Chiefs, suggest that Carroll is still pulling the strings behind the scenes? At any rate, he’s quite unconcerned about a squad of FBI agents invading his home, and almost whimsically agrees to accompany them to see Stephen.

Speaking of whom, this is yet another series where the supposed hero has become mostly marginal to the story, which is a fancy way of saying that Stephen is the least interesting character in this entire series. Perhaps this is simply the reflection of how a president is really just a shot-caller while all the real work is done by others, but it does encourage you to view his limited accomplishments, like sending Michter out on a tour of all the U.S. embassies (starting with the most volatile regions—first stop, Liberia!), with a sneer.

Compared to what the Clarke folks are doing, anyway, Stephen’s political maneuvering is nothing. With Pritchard and Gomez both well in the deep of alien territory, things start getting quite hectic, as you might imagine. Pritchard’s “intellectual curiosity” proves just as deadly as the regular kind, as his investigations only angers the alien devices/entities and leads to a violent first contact between mankind and the extraterrestrial. Still, no pain, no gain. We learn these things, whatever they are, aren’t so advanced as to be above retaliation, that they can regenerate and extend themselves “fractally—every appendage, and part thereof, is a duplicate of the whole,” that the air inside the alien craft is “close to an earth mix. What do you suppose that… means,” Pritchard wonders.

Another criticism I might lay at Alburquerque’s feet is he doesn’t really know the value of subtlety. Emotions are often amped up too high, even when a scene calls for an extreme reaction. In live-action terms, the characters often appear to be overacting; bulging eyes and gaping mouths are the norm in Letter 44. This exaggeration extends to body language as well. It’s not enough for the FBI to grab one of Carroll’s guards and pull him into a dark room, he has to be yanked in with all his limbs flailing.

Conclusion: You’re certainly not here for the art, but the story does have enough intrigue to be worth following.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Still, what does it say that these alien things—it’s not confirmed whether they’re alive or mechanical—shatter upon simple contact with an Earth scanner?