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

The Story: Universal healthcare and military escalation, all in one day. Mixed signals, Mr. President.

The Review: I’m an English major and an aspiring lawyer. Taken together, that means I spend a lot of time reading more into things than perhaps are actually there. In my mind, nearly everything has symbolic value, no matter how insignificant. Get me in a supermarket parking lot, and if I see someone scraping their cart atop some random curb, I can start rhapsodizing about the decline of civilization by human carelessness within seconds. It’s a gift, I know.

However inappropriate it is to wield this gift in the real world, it’s a very useful thing in fiction. Let’s take Stephen’s smoking for example. By keeping this otherwise innocent habit a secret, he turns it into a potential scandal if anyone should find out. He even goes as far as to hide it from Isobel, suggesting he has no qualms about deceiving his loved ones in addition to the general public. And the fact that he forces one Secret Service agent to carry the cigs for him, then pushes his used one in the FBI director’s hand as soon as he sees Isobel coming, indicates that Stephen doesn’t hesitate to use other people as shills and scapegoats.

All of this is to say that I have a very bad feeling about his keeping the deployment of Project Monolith technology concealed even from his closest advisors. Soon, he tells his press secretary and secretary of state when they press for answers. Later, he tells his national security advisor. Fine. But it begs the question of what exactly he’s waiting for.

Meanwhile, the highly advanced weaponry is already causing a stir domestically and internationally. Stephen’s national security advisor points out that while no one’s making any sudden reaction at the moment, it probably won’t last. In an admirably succinct summation of the art of escalation, he observes, “As long as one side doesn’t get too far ahead, no one does anything crazy.” And Stephen has just pushed the U.S. leagues ahead of everyone else.

He’s getting very good at pushing buttons without completely considering the long-term consequences, or at least seeming that way. Remember his pissing match with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and how that got his chief of staff nearly assassinated? And then came the confrontation with former President Carroll, and now Carroll’s vanished from even FBI detection, freeing him to potentially plot against Stephen from afar. I imagine Stephen’s terse convo with Congressman Chris Higgins, in which Stephen rubs Higgins’ face in his decision to circumvent Congress in deploying the weapons (and the fact that he “won” Isobel away from Higgins once upon a time), will lead to similarly unpredictable results.

There are secrets among the Clarke crew, too. Even as Kyoko voices her concern to Charlotte about the possibility of Astra’s fontanelle never closing, she fails to disclose the other multiple development abnormalities she’s detected in the newborn. Some secrets aren’t even known to the holders. Exactly how has Gomez become so perceptive about the extraterrestrials? No doubt, it has something to do with the injury he sustained onboard the Chandelier, but was it purely an accident or on purpose? In other words, do the aliens actually want him to know these things, or did he just luck out? Either way, there’s something ominous when he explains his uncanny insights by saying, “I can just see it,” with an unnerving grin on his face.

I suppose it was too much to hope that Joëlle Jones would stay on art duties after her guest work last issue, but nonetheless, I’m disappointed to go back to Alburquerque’s decidedly silly figures. While his eye for tech and mechanical objects is generally stronger than for human characters, you can’t help but laugh at his vision for the Monolith-enhanced suits our boys are seen wearing in Afghanistan. High-tech medieval armor is the best way for me to describe it. It’s less impressive than amusing.

Conclusion: We’re getting escalation on all fronts in this series; suddenly Letter 44 is getting rather exciting.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I’m not sure which exceptions to Congressional oversight Stephen’s referring to in Executive Order 12333, but the order is about the creation of the CIA, so you can well imagine.