Fish and Cherries Productions

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Ronin Reads – Letter 44 (Volume 1: Escape Velocity)

Title: Letter 44 (Volume 1: Escape Velocity)
Author: Charles Soule
Artists: Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque (Illustrations), Guy Majors (Colors; issues 1-3), Dan Jackson (Colors, issues 4-6)
Type: Comic Book
Genre: Science Fiction

Being the new President is no picnic and having to clean up after your predecessor’s incompetence makes it ever worse. But discovering that the “mistakes” of the previous administration were to distract from and cover up a secret operation to investigate an alien structure being built in the asteroid field? Well, that just makes it a bloody party, now doesn’t it? Such is the situation for President Henry Blades, the newly sworn in 44th President of the United States, who now has to inherit Former President Francis Carroll’s secrets and burdens. Now, burdened with the debt and wars that Carroll left him saddled with, President Blades has to struggle with getting the truth out to the people, all while someone appears to be attacking him from the shadows.

Oh, did I forget to mention the discovery operation involved sending nine people into space to witness and study the construction firsthand? Yes, the crew of the Clarke have been in space since the previous administration and one of them is very pregnant, which complicates things since this is a high chance of being a one-way trip. Regardless, it’s their job to figure out what this thing is and whether or not it bodes ill for the human race. The more they find, the less they’re sure about what’s going on. The construct certainly looks like a weapon, but is that cause for a preemptive strike?

As you can probably tell, this is much more of a dialogue-based sci-fi, focusing on the politics and strategy of the matter. That’s not to say there’s no action whatsoever, but it only happens when the plot requires it and is few and far between. Rather than having a lot of internal wrestling with a character’s moral integrity, each character knows exactly what they want to do and stand firm on their principles. President Blades is dead set on revealing the truth to the public and has to overcome obstacles from other people who are just as determined to keep it hidden. All nine of the Clarke’s crew have their own stances on a multitude of different issues and go between being an indecisive congress and being swing votes in a debate between the two most invested crew members. These convictions bounce off of each other and give most of the conversations urgency.

There’s also a huge sense of mystery throughout both storylines; no one has the entire picture of what’s going on and that includes the reader. A few of the chapters start in media res and it’s not always clear what it has to do with anything until it all comes together in a huge crash. In the President’s storyline, there’s a hit man posing as an everyman and while it’s clear he’s not on the President’s side, the book gives very little clues as to who he is or what he gets out of all of this (even the character appendix at the end doesn’t reveal anything). In the Clarke’s storyline, the group encounters a lot of strange and impossible things, but no one’s quite sure what they mean. Even when they’re attacked by security drones on one asteroid, there’s some question as to whether or not said drones thought they were acting in self-defense. It’s enough to keep the readers on their toes, to say the least.

There are only two real complaints I have with this book. One is that for all that happens, it really is mostly build up with the payoff being saved for the later books. In a way, that makes this the Game of Thrones to this series’ Song of Ice and Fire (I’m referring to the book Game of Thrones, not the series). The other is that for all the characters’ dynamic personalities, it gets very hard to distinguish them from one another or tell what name belongs to which person. This certainly isn’t helped by the fact that most of the government people are white guys in blue suits going back and forth with one another. That’s actually a little bit baffling since this came out in 2014 and yet while Former President Carroll is clearly a stand-in for George W. Bush, President Blades has absolutely no correlation with Barack Obama and is yet another white guy in a blue suit who resembles Mr. Fantastic. I’m sure the writer has his reasons for doing this and I’m not going to call a racial foul, but it’s just a really odd choice in today’s age where the 44th President being black is just kind of an accepted fact.

Letter 44 is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea; the dialogue heavy story and the lack of any real closure in this first volume may turn a fair few people off. However, I personally think the intrigue outweighs the current lack of answers. It’s a solid start to this story with enough questions to make me wonder where it’s leading. So I’ll be looking into the rest of this series to let you know if it’s all worth the wait.

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