It's a question that was asked sixty years ago yet it still captivates the minds of people all over the world. Where is everybody? Well, according to the most recent issue of Letter 44 by Charles Soule, Alberto Albuquerque, and Dan Jackson, everybody is testing out their giant space gun on Jupiter's moons.
Issue nine opens with former President and overall asshole Francis T. Carroll spilling the beans about his previous goings on with Project Monolith and the alien mining project that necessitated it. He admits to some pretty grave shady activity but he also maintains that it was always for the “greater good”. He then proceeds to partake in what is probably at least light treason seemingly for the sole purpose of screwing over his successor President Blades. We then jump several millions of miles up to the asteroid belt, the crew of the Clarke, and the giant space cannon that has been built there by tiny rainbow drill things. The cannon proves to be “quite operational” as it obliterates one of the lesser moons of Jupiter. This leaves both the crew and the ground support understandably nervous. President Blades and the Strangelovian Dr. Portek discuss the immense gravity of the situation. Portek reassures the President that they have things well in hand, but the President has seen Independence Day is still a little uncertain. Meanwhile, also on Earth, the First Lady uses her First Lady Parts in an attempt to stall Congress from making the pretty valid move of demanding to know where these super-weapons that have come into play are coming from. The issue ends back in the cosmos with a bit of reflective debate between scientific mindfulness and militaristic action (though it doesn't play out the way you'd necessarily think it would). But the time for talking is cut short when the aliens begin a direct assault on the Clarke.
This series really shines with it's fairly equal distribution of action and attention between the crew of the Clarke and the the President and all of his men. It starts on the ground with that conniving son of a bitch Carroll. He seems to be pretty upset that Blades is getting attention for the things that he initiated. While it's hard to tell what his angle is (and if he's the big bad that hired that assassin a few issues ago) but he's definitely an antagonist for Blades. On the side, the current President is doing some fairly questionable things. It's been brought up before, but there's a reason you don't just unleash a wave of future weapons on the battlefield without warning. It's the kind of thing congressional committees are formed over. But this issue, President Blades is more concerned with the firepower that's just been displayed. It's not Alderaan, but that's one less moon Jupiter has. It's fair to be alarmed, but to start comparing it to the firepower of nukes is a little disconcerting. So far Blades has done what he's done to make sure his people know everything they can about this space device. Now that they know what it is and just how powerful it can be, it's easy to see him start to crack. The crew of the Clarke is equally worried about the potential of the space gun. They see this power firsthand. It's not surprising that Pritchard, previously a man of curiosity, has started to fall on the side of negativity. To him, this whole thing (ridiculously expensive exploratory space program) seems to have just proven itself worthless. What are seven humans going to do against alien beings with that kind of power? That they get attacked in the middle of his pity party is just kind of icing on the cake. Soule has escalated the situation and he does a great job of having his characters either rise or fall in the wake.
On par with the writing is the art of the series. Albuquerque is doing great pencil and ink work with both the characters and the settings. One nice touch is how muscular everybody on the Clarke is. You always hear about how astronauts need to exercise all the time to keep their bodies from falling victim the lack of gravity. Seeing Pritchard with some serious guns for an old man is a nice reminder of that. The design of the space gun is also really cool. Oh, also Queen makes a special guest appearance, Freddie Mercury and all. Working in-sync with Albuquerque, Jackson's colors are awe-inspiring. Both in that they look really, really awesome and that they absolutely take your breath away. The test firing of the cannon is the best example of this. Three entire pages of the most vivid reds and yellows. It's amazing. The rest of his color work is great as well. While things on Earth are a little more toned down, the shadows and lighting on the Clarke are phenomenal. Most of the ship is kind of washed in a blue-gray that makes it feel cold and dark. But the green house with all of the plants works the opposite way giving off a kind of “natural” light. It's easy to forget both settings are in the same space.
The task of first contact is a bit of a tricky task. Especially after you know that the alien species you're making contact with has a giant cannon that can blow up a moon. Soule, Albuquerque, and Jackson continue the story of how we as humans will handle the idea of a highly advanced beings packing highly advanced heat in the same masterful manner that they've been giving us so far. The stakes have been raised. The aliens have shown their hand (or tentacle or weird fractal cone appendage) and it's up to President Blades to make the next move. Will it end in tragedy? Probably. But it'll also probably be a spectacular event. This issue continues the series in the right direction, up. Let's hope number ten can surpass the surly bonds of our expectations.