Today, Drew and Scott are discussing Letter 44 2, originally released November 27th, 2013.
Drew: I was never a Boy Scout, but their “be prepared” motto captured my young imagination. Growing up in suburbia, “preparation” was simply carrying enough cash in case my friends wanted to get ice cream, but I liked to carry the concept ad absurdum. Do you have a snake bite kit? Are you conversational in Farsi? Could you beat a polygraph test? I’m decidedly unprepared for most eventualities, but the beauty of the human mind is that we can improvise. Ultimately, it’s not how well we prepare for the expected, but how well we react to the unexpected that allows us to survive. That capacity for improvisation is the crux of Letter 44 2, as both President Blade and the crew of the Clarke try to deal with the unknown.
Of course, that doesn’t stop them from attempting some semblance of preparation. The issue begins with a briefing from Dr. Portek, who explains in detail why they suspect the aliens are here for non-friendly reasons. It’s all conjecture, but with communication severed with the Clarke, that’s all they really have left. Portek takes Blade on a tour of the weapons developed since the discovery of the aliens, while Blade struggles to organize his military leaders behind him. Meanwhile, the crew of the Clarke works to get the ship back online. Essentially, traveling through the communications curtain tripped all of the ship’s breakers, which needed to be reset manually. The crew makes it through (largely) unscathed, but Willett, one of the military escorts, fires at what he calls a “living rainbow.” Was it just a hallucination, or do the aliens have the drop on the crew?
It’s a testament to writer Charles Soule’s skills that that question mark doesn’t feel like cheap cliffhanger bait. At this early stage, the series is all about its questions, and Soule does a brilliant job of keeping this one from stealing the show. Instead, he deliberately sets our focus on just what these aliens might be up to. Portek leads Blade step-by-step through an airtight dissection of just what motives would lead the aliens to behave as they have, but as Pritchard helpfully points out, it would be a mistake to trust human perceptions here. If you ask military leaders why someone would stake out a secret location, and they’ll see a threat — especially if doing so allows them to dump funds into R&D for some cool new toys.
Portek dismisses the notion that the aliens are on some kind of Star Trek-like anthropological mission, citing the fact that you don’t need secrecy and giant constructs to observe cultures, but that reasoning seems pretty flawed to me. Going back to Pritchard’s suggestion, we have absolutely no idea what this massive construct is for. Could it be a weapon? Maybe, but it could also be an observatory, a teleportation platform, or yes, even a sewage treatment plant. The military crew onboard the Clarke seem amenable to this notion, which brings us back to just how much of the playbook they’ve thrown out.
Which brings us back to Hayden’s pregnancy. We learn here that the paternity is in question (reminding me quite a bit of the astronauts from Y: The Last Man), and that the crew voted together to keep the baby (and presumably to keep it a secret). Indeed, Willett seems to have some history of hallucinations, which may have only begun to manifest during the mission, and has been conspicuously absent from any discussion on Earth. It seems like the Clarke has been keeping Earth pretty strictly on a need-to-know basis, a situation that’s only going to get worse now that they’re on the other side of the communications barrier. Then again, by the end of the issue, Earth has reestablished communication with the Clarke, and have received “reams of data.” Portek and Blade wouldn’t suspect that this data is filtered in any way, but with so much secrecy on the Clarke, there will be at least some censorship going on.
One of my favorite things about Soule’s work is how difficult to pin down, and this series is no different. Sure, there’s plenty of high-flying sci-fi speculation simmering below the surface, but there’s also White House power struggles, parables about freedom in the face of adversity, and maybe even a bit about how parents’ decisions shape their children’s lives. We won’t really know what kind of a series this is until we find out a bit more about these aliens, but in the meantime, I’m happy to wait in this strange limbo Soule has cooked up. Scott, are you as happy with stewing in these questions as I am?
Scott: Certainly, though I wouldn’t say I feel like I’m stewing. Honestly, even without any promise of ever finding out what these aliens are all about, I still think this would make for a fascinating series. I’m about equally enthralled with both the D.C. and Clarke-based halves of this story right now, and so much of the intrigue is driven by what the characters and we, the audience, don’t know. I’ll happily wait as long as Soule deems necessary to starting fleshing out some answers.
I imagine Soule will be taking his sweet time with any major revelations, reason number one being something Drew laid out above: Hayden’s pregnancy. While it looks like she could be due just about any day now, I have to believe Soule will coax as much tension as he possible can out of her situation with the whole paternity mystery. Also, Dr. Portek makes it pretty clear that there’s no guarantee the Clarke will be making it back home, but there’s no way Soule could kill off a baby. Right?
Then again, I shouldn’t expect anything Dr. Portek or any other character says to hold true. Soule has proven that he’s incredbly inventive, and he’ll surely take this series down a path I never saw coming. In essence, he is the super high tech alien race to my mankind- he’s operating on another creative level that I can’t even conceptualize. It’s just a shame the movie “Gravity” was released before this issue; the idea of two astronauts spiraling through space, tethered only to each other is brilliantly terrifying and would have seemed a helluva lot more novel just a few months ago.
OK, it’s still pretty cool.
Drew, I’m down for just about anything this title could throw at me. We haven’t talked about it much, but the political half of the series is every bit as interesting as the Clarke stuff. Blades has been very one-track-minded thus far in his young presidency, but I’m interested to see how/if he goes public with the Clarke mission and how it affects his agenda. It’s certainly enough to make you realize how monumentally tough the job of President is, and how doing what’s in the best interest of the world and doing what you feel is morally right are often contradictory goals when the stakes are so high.
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