If you became the President of the United States, what would you seek to change over the four years of your elected term? This was the position that Stephen Blades, President-Elect, was put into after winning the election. How can he live up to his campaign pledges? How can he make the country a better place? All these thoughts racing in his head were dramatically derailed by a single scrappy letter left the Presidential desk. The tradition of the outgoing Commander-In-Chief leaving a message for the incumbent. Simply labelled 44, it will fundamentally change Blades' perception of his predecessor, his own job and the universe as a whole.
Letter 44, written by Charles Soule, is set in an analogous modern day America. Much like our current situation, seemingly ill-conceived war and economic instability have taken their toll on the country - and the choices of the departing President have been heavily frowned upon. The people have chosen a change of direction and control of the White House has shifted across the aisle. In his departing missive, Francis T Carroll reveals that years ago a mining construct was detected in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter and it was clearly of extra terrestrial construction. Whatever it was, he was determined the USA would be prepared, and so his unpopular actions were to ensure his country would be ready for whoever or whatever would doubtless come.
Sun Tsu is famously known for saying one should know their enemy, and so the second prong of Carroll’s plan was to send a nine man scientific and military team to find out what was out there. At the point of his inauguration, Blades is hearing of this mission for the first time and learning that they are almost there. It’s only when the crew draw back the metaphorical curtain that Blades sees that things could not be much worse than initially thought. The construction is apparently complete and functional... and does not look at all friendly.
On the surface of it Soule’s story is one of impending doom with an unknown alien adversary but looking beneath this there are a multitude of facets to also take into account. On one level you have the dilemma of whether humanity is better off for not knowing? Should they simply continue in ignorance of the secret team of men and women who have learnt the frightening truth? And if not how do you disseminate that sort of information? Or on the other hand, as President, do you continue the somewhat shady work of your predecessor now you know the truth? Regardless of your choice you still have to consider what to do about the potential threat to your life.
On top of this you have to consider the fate of the unknown crew whose social relationships have evolved during their mission. Lines of etiquette and fraternisation have been crossed and there is a baby on the way...
So do you still want to be President?
Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque has put pencil to paper for this issue and this is the first I’ve seen of his work. I wouldn’t say it is bad or wrong, but for me the incredibly angular noses on all of the characters sticks out a lot which makes it a slightly odd comic to read. That said the final image of the alien craft looked great; a fantastic contradiction to the small, almost insignificant ship that the Earth has made.
All in all I found this an interesting comic as it has a fun if not sinister element to it, whilst also coupled with a large intellectual element. This is a great introduction to Oni Press for new readers if they’ve not knowingly come across them before, and the solicitations for this ongoing title are also promising too.
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