Letter 44 (vol one): Escape Velocity by Charles Soule and Alberto J. Alburquesque
I’ve just found a real gem in my stack of books to review: Letter 44: Escape Velocity by Charles Soule is a must-read for science-fiction fans. Saga by Vaughan is the first current comic title I usually recommend to fans of SF. Luckily, I now have another current title to recommend right along with Saga. Letter 44: Escape Velocity has equally compelling character development and perhaps even better suspense.
“Letter 44” refers to the letter the 44th president of the United States leaves behind for the incoming 45th president, Stephen Blades. Blades sits down to read the letter and finds out something that only a few people in the world know: There’s some device being built out in space by intelligent alien beings. Nobody knows who these aliens are, what they look like, where they come from, or what their intentions are. Furthermore, President Blades finds out that there is a program devoted to dealing with this pressing global concern. In fact, a crew has already been sent out on a one-way trip to investigate what they call “the Chandelier.” But what is it? Is it a communication device? Is it a weapon of mass destruction? It’s impossible to tell. President Blades, as soon as he can, contacts the crew, who have yet to reach their destination. This first trade collection alternates between the space voyage and Blades’ troubles back on Earth.
The crew is made up of astronauts, military personnel, and scientists so they are prepared for either friendly or enemy aliens, as well as the possibility that they may learn much from a meeting with a more technologically advanced species. It’s not an all-male crew, which adds some interesting dynamics and sexual tension. However, they are all practical when it comes to sexual needs. The women in this group apparently have had sex with more than one male, to the frustration of at least one of the men. All the men respect that the women get final say regarding intimacy, and most of the crew seem okay with the arrangement. In fact, one woman and two men, in particular, seem to form a fairly solid, loving unit. By the time we meet them, the woman is visibly pregnant, and everyone in the crew is tender and loving. In other words, the overall feeling conveyed in the book, as far as I was concerned, is tender rather than seedy and creepy. Some jokes are made, particularly by the one gay member of the crew, and there’s one brief sex scene, but that’s not the point of the comic. The crew has more pressing issues: Is it right for them to consider raising a baby as a group when they are most likely on a one-way trip? How long will they survive since their ship keeps falling apart? Will the aliens be kind or attack them? None of these questions are answered completely in this first trade collection, but there are some alien-like encounters that are fascinating. However, they raise even more questions than they answer.
Back on earth, President Blades realizes that he can’t trust anybody, and there are varying cloak and dagger movements underway. I enjoyed this part of the comic as much as I did the events in space, but I can’t say too much without giving plot points away, which is a shame because much of this intrigue is what adds to the suspense of the comic. However, I do want to warn that the book is probably aimed at a liberal audience: The 44th president is clearly conservative, and the 45th president, liberal. However, since the 44th president is criticized heavily in the comic and the 45th president is the one with whom we are asked to empathize, the book probably won’t go over well with a conservative audience. So, if you are liberal and love SF, you’ve got to read this comic. If you are conservative and love SF, you need to consider how much the political aspects of the comic might bother you. For me, Letter 44: Escape Velocity earns an easy 5 stars.