Written by Charles Soule
Art by Alberto J. Alburquerque
I think this is one of the most gripping and promising first issues I've read in a very long time. Charles Soule has been steadily building a name for himself, starting with 27, and then moving to DC where he's doing a bang-up job of writing Swamp Thing, and is also doing one or more of the Green Lantern titles (I don't pay attention). Letter 44, though, is his most practiced and impressive comic yet.
The book opens in the near future, where a (presumably Democratic) president, the 44th in America's history, is sworn into office after the country spent eight years embroiled in foreign wars and mounting defence spending at the cost of the economy at home. Before being sworn in, President Blades reads a letter from his predecessor, and learns that everything that has happened was in service of a simple and terrifying fact - NASA has found evidence of alien life in the solar system, a mining facility in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
The former president used his military campaigns as a way to ready his army for the conflict he believes is coming, and to be able to hide the expense of building a space vessel to send nine people to check out what is happening. Clearly, this is big news, and Blades has to figure out what he should do.
From here, Soule begins to introduce the crew of the Clarke, the vessel which is only now, after three years in space, approaching the alien facility. There are the usual mix of brave scientists, cynical, sarcastic soldiers, and what have you on the Clarke, and in the short span of this issue, Soule does a great job of introducing them and beginning to develop them.
There is a real sense of urgency and secrecy to this comic, and it feels all the more topical in light of recent events at the NSA. There are some great elements tossed into the story, like the fact that the woman in charge of the space vessel is pregnant.
Alberto J. Alburquerque is a talented artist, who has a good handle on many of the scenes which are basically composed of talking heads. I like the way that Guy Major has coloured the book to make the astronauts so pale and sun-deprived.
When I started reading this comic, I couldn't help but compare it to Saucer Country, the recently-departed Vertigo book that also mixed Presidential politics with the threat of alien invasion, but where that series took a more conspiracy-based approach, this one feels like a very intelligent blockbuster. This comic is only one dollar, and if you can find a copy, I highly suggest you grab it.