Letter 44, Volume 5: Blueshift

Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque (cover illustrator), Charles Soule (scripter), Herrara (editor), Joelle Jones (line artist), Drew Moss (line artist), Ryan Kelly (line artist), Alize Gluskova (line artist), Langdon Foss (line artist), Dan Jackson (color artist), Shawn Depasquale (lettering artist), and Crank! (lettering artist)
Oni Press
November 28, 2017

This series starts with the first day a new president takes office and reads the letter left by the previous president. The new President, Blades, finds out his predecessor discovered messages from extraterrestrials and sent a crew on a hastily constructed space ship (the Clarke) to meet them around Saturn or Jupiter, while simultaneously provoking war to beef up our military technology in order to possibly fight the extraterrestrials.

This, volume five, is the penultimate volume of the series and is essentially an anthology. It contains issues from all over the run, starting as early as issue 7 and going to 29, gathering all of the stories from the crew of the Clarke and how they came together for what could be considered the most important mission in humanity—and/or very possibly a suicide mission.

I’ve been reading this series monthly, starting with the very first issue. I’ve always appreciated Charles Soule as a writer, and the premise of this one appealed to me. I LOVED his She-Hulk comic (it finally did her justice and gave her her own world WITH a magic monkey!), and I’ve enjoyed several of his Star Wars comics as well. For me this comic has comparably solid writing. It’s an interesting idea and he tries to do the character’s service; most of the time he is focused on President Blades, so with this anthology, it’s really nice to get the history of the others as a combined weight.

Of all the characters’ tales, the backstory of Willet, the mechanic and engineer who wasn’t chosen for the mission, but stumbled upon it, in a manner of speaking, was my favourite. He was in the armed services, a mechanic and friend of another officer, and his stories are all about him using his wit and ingenuity to save them over and over again, leading him to stumble across the mission of the Clarke and volunteering to go and save his friend yet again.

This was the issue that stood out the most when I was reading them in order and “going back” by reading the trade that collects them all together, and it still sticks out and appeals to me most. I’m a fan of the handy inventive innovative character, who saves the people around him or her and constantly builds and creates.

The last issue of the collection is from the alien perspectives. They are the ones the Clarke is going to meet in the very first issue and without trying to give away too much, this is the issue we find out the true mission of the alien race and the ultimate mission of the Clarke.

Issue 32 of Letter 44, Art by Langdon Foss, Colors by Dan Jackson, Letters by Crank!

This issue had the art and bright pastel color palate that reminded me of Moebius and his art from The Incal. It’s where the colors go from the subdued kind of normal tones of the rest of the series and instead is vivid and more imaginative. The lines have that great simplistic yet detailed appearance that remind me a little of the ligne claire French style of comics.  It just has an elegant look to it, and Jackson really seems to have fun with the colors in this one. The vivid colors and trippy looking organics of this art very much reminded me of Foss’ work in this volume.

The Incal, Art by Moebius, Colors by Yves Chaland, Written by Alejandro Jodorowsky

That’s one of the reasons this issue stands out, because most of the art (Alberto Jimenez) is kind of generic. It’s not bad art, but it’s not great art either; it just feel like something to dislike, but not something I really appreciate or am drawn to when reading. Maybe it’s just me and possibly others feel strongly about it, and that’s okay. The art just didn’t capture my imagination.

That dude has some serious abs going on, but the whole series feel like it could have benefited from a more stylized artist.  Art by Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque, Colors by Dan Jackson, Letters by Crank!

Even though there are different artists on the issues, you can’t really tell (so disappointing from Joelle Jones who has done lovely work in Lady Killer, but here her art doesn’t stand out or seem stylistic at all), except for Chapter 5 (issue 32 in the monthly), because Langdon Foss really has a great style, and it really elevates this issue. Dan Jackson’s colors are vivid and eye-catching and it works together to make the aliens look the best they have this whole series. My only sadness is that they didn’t do more issues together, although I understand wanting a different style for this one as it’s the only one removed from the main human narrative.

The way this volume of the series is placed right before the last issue reminds me strongly of the last episode of Battlestar Galactica’s “Daybreak,” where the episode starts with the prequel backstories of how your characters got where they are, how they went from a life on earth to one so very far from where they started. Having read the series initially in the periodical run makes me question whether I prefer all the backstories as they originally appear or as sort of a precursor to the end presented together as they are now. While I like the idea of this collection, I read these stories originally interspersed within the series, and I think that it worked for me more than the presentation format of this volume. The background to the characters is what compelled me to read on when I felt my enthusiasm flagging. It broke up the constant conflict narrative and gave me a chance to appreciate the characters’ civilian personalities while I was reading them in combat situations and enjoy them more.

I’m always interested when the presentation of a piece of music, writing, or movie or TV show has been changed from it’s original format and whether or not it’s original presentation was more successful than its reorganization or attachment to additional material. I feel, for me, I preferred them in the order they were published.

This series has been tossed around as an option for television, and I believe it works on the level of Battlestar Galactica or The Expanse, where you have far flung characters in space and intrigue and drama back on Earth, although I honestly feel it would be most suited to a miniseries, as it has a defined ending and dragging it out would not benefit the material. Overall, I’d recommend reading the series. It was interesting, and it ends well.