Writer: Charles Soule
Artist: Alberto Albuquerque
Publisher: Oni Press
I got into The West Wing about a decade after it originally aired (hooray for Netflix!). If you’re wondering, yes, this makes for highly topical conversation at your local pub (“did you guys see that episode of West Wing!”). The Aaron Sorkin drama starring Martin Sheen is surprisingly prescient for a network drama (NBC, what has happened to you!), and I was continually amazed at all the parallels with what’s happening today. Sorkin has his detractors, but West Wing is worth at least a shot, partly for the entertainment and partly so you can watch a show about a liberal democrat in office that aired while the Bush administration was coming into power. What an alternate reality contrast!
With Letter 44, Charles Soule, Alberto Albuquerque, and Oni Press take almost the opposite approach. Letter 44 is an alternate reality, but it’s one in which President Blades is a clear stand-in for Barack Obama, minus the fact that President Obama is our first black commander-in-chief. Politically, though, Blades is the liberal idealist, riding a wave of hope into displacing the curmudgeonly old Republican incumbent. All of the decisions Blades makes operate under that political umbrella, much like all of the decisions the P.O.T.U.S. has made over the course of the last six years.
Of course, the big twist for President Blades comes in the form of the titular Letter 44, a letter from the previous president, informing Blades that an American team of astronauts has been observing evidence of extraterrestrial life and that America has been stockpiling weapons to prepare for an alien invasion. After the obvious doubt, Blades discovers that this threat is entirely real and is easily the most essential American secret. In “Letter 44 #8”, we find Blades using the stockpiled lasers meant to deal with alien invaders to put an end to American involvement in overseas wars. Essentially, Blades begins making the alien invasion work for him, completely disrupting the stale, sad routine of violence with impossible technology. At the same time, Blades is also revealing America has been stockpiling and concealing unknown weaponry which opens up a lot of questions and fear among our foreign counterparts.
What I really enjoy about “Letter 44 #8” is how much time this comic gives to the inner workings of the White House. Much like West Wing, we get to know Blades’s confidants and staff as the real people they are. For a comic that spends so much time in space, it’s surprisingly down to earth, giving as much time to Blades hiding his smoking from his wife as it does to the likelihood of a newborn baby surviving aboard a space shuttle.
Speaking of space, “Letter 44 #8” also spends plenty of time showcasing our heroic crew of astronauts as they plan to make a final incursion onto the mysterious alien structure they know only as The Chandelier. In a lot of ways, the alien presence is one of the toughest sells in Letter 44, a comic that otherwise delivers plenty of realism. Unlike, say, The Manhattan Projects, Letter 44 is not giving in to the impulses of the artistic medium and throwing a slew of little green men at us in a splash of cinematic ambition (or, in Manhattan Projects‘s case, unfiltered genius run amok). At least not yet. It will be fascinating to watch as Soule and Alberto Albuquerque attempts to navigate the extraterrestrial in more detail.
Letter 44 is a political drama with ambitions of alien invasion, and frankly it’s one of the better overtly political comics you’ll find. Much like The West Wing, Letter 44 gives a human face to the American White House, only this time the leader of the free world needs to contemplate how to manage the threat of aliens from outer space.
“Letter 44 #8” earns 7.5 / 10