My stack of unread trades is way too big. It sits on my bedside table, and currently, it goes up to the shade for the lamp I set there. That’s not even the only stack of unread book on that table, and there are more on the floor. The point is, I need to get through these things sooner or later. And right about now, the thing to do seemed to be to grab a few trades from series I liked and just hadn’t read in a while.
And what better place to start than Letter 44, the political thriller with big time sci-fi elements tossed in for good measure? I last read and reviewed the second trade almost three years ago when Comic Bento was still around. Regardless, it seems like a good time to look into the third volume, subtitled Dark Matter, and see where things go from here. I mean, I really liked this series once upon a time.
To put it bluntly, things are bad both on Earth and in space. The aliens are truly alien, strange to look at with goals that are difficult to comprehend. They don’t seem to be hostile, but they sure aren’t friendly either. On Earth, this confusion seems to have led to a global war, one America (allied with the likes of France and China) may be losing to a different alliance headed up by Russia, Great Britain, and Germany. As for the astronauts out in space, they’re trying to warn Earth of an impending meteor strike that could be an extinction-level event. At the very least, it will kill a sizable portion of the human population.
Now, President Stephen Blades wants to wrap the war up, and he has a plan to do so using the superweapons developed under his predecessor’s administration. If he can do that, he’ll be able to see about fixing things up and trying to come to a consensus of some kind on what to do about the aliens. There’s one problem here: his main antagonist, the person trying to most prevent him from reaching those goals, is his predecessor, former President Francis T. Carroll. Carroll is the one coordinating with the British, Germans, and Russians. He has contacts still within the American government who are still acting like he’s in charge. And he firmly believes the aliens are a threat to the world that only the strong and the prepared (and, coincidentally, those loyal to him) should survive as he actively works against his own country’s government and its democratically elected president.
I know Carroll is loosely based on George W. Bush, but that aspect of the plot has not aged well given the events of January 6th.
That said, Charles Soule does, as always, have a good grasp on the Earthbound, political aspects of this story. He spends a lot of time in this trade basically giving Carroll’s backstory, explaining why he is the way he is and why he came to the conclusions that he did. He isn’t really much of a mustache-twirling villain so much as a man who might have gone over the edge due to grief and instincts that were already pointed towards a general distrust of the new and strange.
As for the space-based mission, much of that has the astronauts trying desperately to warn the Earth that there’s a meteor inbound. The aliens could stop it easily but have decided not to. There’s an orbital space cannon that can also stop it if the people of the Earth are warned in advance. But the aliens are likewise uninterested in letting a message get through to the planet anyway. The astronauts can maybe hijack a transmission and send a warning, but one of their number was rebuilt by the aliens, and many of his compatriots aren’t sure how much they trust him as a result.
Badly aged plotlines aside, this is still a well-written piece that expertly mixes science fiction with a political thriller. True, I am not a huge fan of the artwork, but Soule’s story carries a lot more weight with me given how well thought-out it is. True, an alliance between an ex-president, Britain, Germany, and Russia seems highly unlikely, but here we are. I want to say I will get the next one of these before another three years passes, but I still have that giant stack of unread books to read first…
9.5 out of 10 helpful babies.