Today, Scott and Drew are discussing Letter 44 4, originally released February 12th, 2014.
Scott: Aliens are scary. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that alien lifeforms do exist somewhere in the universe. Until we make contact, we can’t know if they pose a threat to humans or our planet. They could be super friendly, but it’s foolish not to consider that they might want to destroy us, and that they could well have the means to do it. We simply don’t know what they’re capable of, and that unknown aspect makes them scary. Humans are a different story. We know exactly what they’re capable of. Greedy politicians with power — and, just as importantly, the motivation to stay in power — are capable of truly horrific things. Until aliens come knocking at our door, humans will likely remain the number one threat to humans. So, what’s scarier: a known threat or an unknown, potential threat? Letter 44 4 (say that five times fast) proves it’s a tough question to answer, but the aliens seem to have one edge: competence.
In the wake of Elijah Green’s “stroke,” President Blades appoints Michter as interim Chief of Staff. Green’s doctor finds evidence that Green was the victim of an attack and relays the news to Michter, who skirts around the President and tells the doctor to keep quiet. Unfortunately for him, Green wakes up and tells Blades himself. Obviously, Blades isn’t too pleased with Michter’s little cover-up.
Assuming Michter is behind the attempt at Green’s life, his plan here is incredibly half-baked. Let’s walk through it: first, if you really want to kill someone, why would you choose to do it via induced embolism? Sure, it’s more discreet than shooting the guy in the head, but any doctor or coroner worth his salt is going to spot an injection site. Someone would quickly realize it was attempted murder, not a stroke. Second, keeping that news under-wraps banks on the doctor calling Michter specifically before telling anyone else. Maybe Michter was confident he would get called up to serve as Chief of Staff, but he couldn’t have known he would get the gig before the doctor tried to contact the President. If the doctor had told anyone else, Michter’s plan would’ve been ruined. Finally, even though Green’s recovery was against the odds, Michter had absolutely nothing in place to prevent Green from telling the President everything, including that Michter knew about the attack. The whole thing seems sloppy. Maybe I’ve been watching too much House of Cards, but I’d think a high powered politician would be a little more meticulous in planning a scheme like this.
Meanwhile, up in space, some members of The Clarke are on their way to investigate the alien-asteroid. As Gomez and Pritchard enter alien construction for the first time, they come across a large, glowing orb. Pritchard detaches himself from his tether to get a closer look, prompting Gomez to attempt to pull him back. As Pritchard touches the orb, however, they are transported to a lovely nature scene. Back on The Clarke, Dr. Hayden is going into labor.
The space scenes are captivating. It’s clear from the start, by the way he insists on being included in the mission, that Pritchard has selfish reasons for wanting to explore the asteroid. He isn’t interested in the mission, he wants to see alien architecture up close, at any cost. Early on, writer Charles Soule introduces the idea that Pritchard doesn’t necessarily respect the military side of the operation, a suspicion that artist Alberto Albuquerque later confirms in a beautifully efficient manner.
Even seeing only a hand detaching a tether, it’s absolutely clear we’re looking at Pritchard. It’s a brilliant interplay between writer and artist. These guys use lots of different, but effective, methods of storytelling. It’s great to see a panel that needs no explanation because it’s been built-up throughout the issue, but it’s also fun to be caught off-guard, like when Manesh unexpectedly gets splashed in the face – only to realize he’s been hit with Hayden’s amniotic fluid.
I appreciate that the art gets a chance to breathe during the space-exploration scenes, which are largely devoid of dialogue, allowing the reader to consider just how frightening and exhilarating drifting through space in a modified VW bus would be. Humans entering alien construction for the first time provides some of the most tension-laced scenes you can find across all genres. Entering the unknown is inherently scary, and the silence of these pages only amplifies the anxiety. Even though the home they’re leaving is a spaceship filled with scientists and military personnel who don’t really get along, seeing them floating away from that relative comfort into vast darkness made me a little uneasy.
Drew, as much as I like the space scenes, I’m a little hung up on the Michter/Green storyline. I’m not satisfied with it. I like a good murder plot, and Michter just isn’t quite the evil mastermind I want him to be. Am I just over-thinking things?
Drew: Actually, I may be underthinking this, but I’m not ready to indict Mitcher just yet — the evidence is all circumstantial. I mean, sure, keeping the truth from Blades is underhanded, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s the one behind the attack. Maybe he’s just trying his sleazy best to take advantage of a situation he had nothing to do with. That may absolve him of some blame, but your criticisms about the short-sightedness of this plan are just as true under this theory. That sloppiness is hard to get over, but my point is that there may be a bit more intrigue here than it seems.
Then again, I’ve always been a bit more interested in the other half of this story — who cares who the Chief of Staff is when there are aliens out there building perfect cylinders? Seriously, though, you’re right on the money about the tension of exploring a structure built by aliens — I’m thinking pretty specifically about Alien and Promethius, both of which do this incredibly well. Bloodthirsty creatures could pop out at any moment, but that seems a little unlikely for a tube that empties directly into space. It seems more likely that they would encounter an exiting spaceship or giant ball of sewage, but Soule delivers something much more unusual.
It’s a strikingly familiar landscape, but there’s also something a little off about it. Between the willow trees, the bright red bushes, and the exaggerated proportions of those mountains, Albuquerque seems to be channeling Dr. Seuss. Of course, the scene doesn’t necessarily scream alien landscape — between the blue sky, the green grass, and the plants that look like plants, this very well could be a location on Earth. Is it possible the Chandelier copies Earth locations to allow the aliens to study them? Or maybe it actually transports them to Earth in order to study it directly.
Of course, the location isn’t exactly the most exciting part of that closing image — look at those weird, rainbow-colored tops! Are they the aliens, or just goofy, awkward-looking droids? I have no idea, but I think they might be the “living rainbow” Willett saw on the hull back in issue 2. The prospect of legitimate alien contact — a close encounter of the third kind, if you will — has me very excited for the next issue. This series has been fantastic with doling out questions, but I might be ready for an answer or two.
Looking ahead, I’m probably okay with Mitcher’s inept power-play — if nothing else, it gives Blades something to do besides wring his hands about a mission he has no control over. That action is heating up all over — Hayden’s having her baby! — which promises to inject a little more urgency to what has otherwise been a remarkably disciplined procedural. I can’t wait.
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