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

The Story: There’s never a Maury Povich audience in space when you need one!

The Review: I don’t often get what I want from a story, so any time I do is cause for celebration—on my part, at least. Right now, some imaginary confetti is in order as Letter 44 finally gives me what I’ve asked for months: a Clarke-centric issue. Not that I’m completely uninterested in what’s happening in the Stephen Blades administration, but as Stephen himself admits, even if only superficially, “The things happening down here pale in comparison to what you’re doing out there.”

True enough, but that’s not to say that what Stephen’s doing doesn’t have a huge impact on the U.S. and the world at large. I’m not talking about his political maneuvering with Carroll, in which the ex-president offers all sorts of perfectly rational reasons for his now infamous letter, disappearance, and alleged involvement with Elijah’s “stroke.” Perhaps fed up with such petty distractions, Stephen brings the hammer down hard on his predecessor with a letter of his own, in which he promises to reverse Carroll’s policy choices, rid his administration of all Carroll influences, and take a strict eye-for-an-eye policy with any future Carroll-directed attacks.*

These are impressive, sweeping choices from a man who earlier seems to be falling into the same trap of wishy-washiness as all politicians do: “…I can’t tell the country that allowing gay folks to get married won’t do a damn thing to the American family. It will create more American families, that’s all. But I can’t say that if I want to get a second term.” But you wonder if Stephen truly appreciates the risks of his actions. His wife has a lot of confidence in the public’s intelligence and maturity, but the public has more often proven temperamental, fickle, prone to hysteria. Putting all of Project Monolith’s tech to immediate and open use is a great short-term solution to the country’s wars, but even a moron like me can see how such exposure can invite greater fear and competition from enemies on and off-planet.

While it’s not yet confirmed that the extraterrestrials the Clarke has encountered so far are hostile, the signs are pointing that way. Manesh’s analysis of a drill-like object Gomez retrieved from the Chandalier results in the discovery of some blueprints for what Willett believes “looks one whole hell of a lot like a gun.” But this is Willett we’re talking about. He sounds pretty all-together here, but it’s possible he’s still running on paranoia or on intellectual myopia. If the thing is a gun, we know the aliens aren’t afraid to use it, having retaliated with violence upon Pritchard’s well-intentioned first contact with them.

Pritchard is still beating himself up over that, by the way, angry that he screwed up the moment he’s dreamed of by encountering new life with violence instead of communication, leading to the loss of another crewmate. This last consequence is especially serious thanks to the revelation that Charlotte’s baby-daddy is none other than Drum himself. The dramatic implications are major, of course, but in a beautifully written scene, Pritchard and Jack see the birth of Astra from a different viewpoint. Pritchard sees bringing up a child in their situation as “inhumane.” Jack disagrees: “It’s not inhumane. It’s an incentive. We considered ourselves expendable, now we’re not. It’s that simple.” Whatever happens with these aliens or any other space challenges they encounter, the whole crew has a very, very important reason to make it through. So what’s their next move? Playing and cooing over the new arrival, of course. It’s this attention to humanity that makes Letter 44 more than its political and scientific premises.

Never let it be said that I don’t give artists their due, because I definitely see a slight improvement in Alburquerque’s art this issue. His generally exaggerated style hasn’t gone away, but the linework is much, much tighter, so that faces no longer seem so…squashy, for lack of a better of a word. Features are more delicately shaped and placed; even Michter’s balloon-like neck and chin have been reduced to more convincingly fatty levels.** I may still prefer a more sophisticated artist on the title, but this I can live with.

Conclusion: Significant improvements and advances in the story and art. Letter 44 is starting to reach for the greatness it always had the potential for.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * It’s worth noting that shortly after Carroll receives the letter, the assassin who attacked Elijah in #4 receives a text telling him to “Abort” while in the audience of the First Lady’s benefit dinner.

** Though maybe he’s just sweated it all off, being exiled to Somalia and all.