I like the idea behind Charles Soule and Alberto Jimenez Albuquerque's "Letter 44," and there's no denying that there's a lot of potential in this comic. But for a first issue, once the initial reveal is over, the comic doesn't have quite enough pep to declare it a full-blown success.
Part of the problem is that in order to get Soule's idea across in "Letter 44" #1, there's a heck of a lot of information that needs to get dumped on the reader. Four pages of the comic are devoted entirely to incoming President Stephen Blades reading outgoing President Francis T. Carroll's letter explaining the basic thrust of the series. Essentially, the US has been at war in order to prepare its military for an incoming alien invasion, and a secret spacecraft is about to arrive at where we believe the armada's been parked. It's a great idea, but once we find out all of this information, the comic grinds to a halt. It's a lot of talking between new President Blades and his cabinet, and then more talking between Blades and the crew of the Clarke spacecraft. I'm not against a little conversation, but this is a comic that ultimately tested even my patience on that front. This is a comic that just feels slower and slower with each passing page.
The frustrating thing is that it feels like this could have been fixed. With the last page of "Letter 44" #1 promising something a bit more exciting next month, it makes you wonder why the contents of "Letter 44" #1 and 2 weren't shuffled around a bit; have some of the talking and planning and strategizing moved into the second issue, and then have a bit more action and exploration of the unknown moved into the premiere. It's nice that all the exposition is now officially out of the way, but I worry that some of the readers will have been turned off enough that they won't be coming back for a second installment.
Part of the problem is that Albuquerque's art hasn't clicked for me just yet. President Blades's face comes across either rubbery or devoid of expression more times than not, and considering how many close-ups we get of the man, that's a little disconcerting. Then again, there are only so many faces that Albuquerque gives us; in the scene where Blades and Dr. Hayden first talk to one another, the monitors with them are side-by-side, and the only real difference is the hairstyle and the coloring. Some of the individual panels are set up well, but with more than a small handful of people in them, the staging sometimes gets a bit awkward, too. Over time this will hopefully go away with some more experience, but for now it's just not coming together quite right.
I want "Letter 44" to do well, because I've enjoyed a lot of Soule's comics and the premise is strong. For now, though, this is a debut that hasn't hit the ground running. With a $1 introductory price tag, hopefully that's enough to convince readers to give it a second shot next month.