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Comic Book / Letter 44

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Letter 44 is a sci-fi and political drama comic book series written by Charles Soule and published by Oni Press.

On Inauguration Day, newly elected President Stephen Blades hoped to tackle the most critical issues facing the nation: war, the economy, and a failing health care system. But in a letter penned by the outgoing President, Blades learns the truth that redefines "critical": seven years ago, NASA discovered an alien presence in the asteroid belt, and kept it a secret from the world. A stealth mission crewed by nine astronauts was sent to make contact, and they're getting close - assuming they survive the long journey to reach their destination.

Tentative plans for a TV adaptation are being shopped around at major networks.


  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The Builders seemingly don't have a care for Earth, especially when there is an asteroid that is about to hit it. After failing to convince them to help Earth, Pritchard angrily calls the Builders out as "sick tourists coming to watch the destruction of a race." It is eventually subverted. The Builders are here to evacuate a very small percentage of Earth's population from a cosmic catastrophe.
  • Allohistorical Allusion: Prior to the end of his term, Carroll was certain that the American public would want a Democratic President in office after all the controversial foreign wars he waged - and the Clarke mission would only reach its destination at the alien construct in the asteroid belt during his successor's first term. The next president would need to have as much popular support as possible in order to deal with the potential alien invasion when it came, but even if the Republicans managed to retain the presidency it would only be by a narrow margin over a divided electorate, making even more problems for the country as a whole when the aliens arrive. Faced with these options, Carroll manipulated the 2008 elections so that the Democratic candidate wouldn't just win, but win by a historic landslide. He didn't do anything explicitly illegal to manipulate this, but he used back-door politics to dupe his own party leaders into nominating a Republican candidate who was a stiff old man that openly promised to carry on the same controversial policies as Carrol, then saddled him with the worst running mate.
    • Carroll recalls his predecessor who has a fondness of "learning pretty ladies' first names" and it almost got him kicked out of office.
  • Alternate History: Aside from the obvious political changes, Freddie Mercury is still alive and Queen are still touring in 2009.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: After President Blades reveals to everyone about a cosmic force that will destroy Earth, people are either looting in the streets or facing their inevitable demise with dignity.
  • Apocalypse How: Class X-4. Millions of years ago, a group of three Builders attempt to harness the power of a gamma-ray burst and using it to help their species to expand beyond their solar system and solving its overpopulation. It goes horribly wrong in which the gamma burst devour the Builders' system and running on a spiral path through the Milky Way Galaxy, pulling into the gravity well of the galactic core, completely eradicating anything it touches. Hence the Builders refer to it as "The End". The Builders, appalled of what they had done, tried everything they could to stop the End. But so far they have only been damaging it as the Builders traveled through the galaxy in the projected path of the End, looking for systems with enough resources to build Chandeliers to reduce the End's power and allowing it to burn itself out. The Builders projected that they could finally stop the End in about 1.233 billion years.
  • Badass Army: The press-dubbed "Blades Brigade" in which President Blades actually likes it.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Gabriel Drums saves the survivors of the Clarke from the Builders on Mars.
  • Bittersweet Ending / Downer Ending: Earth is destroyed by The End and only around a million humans are evacuated to the Refuge. President Blades and Astra managed to lead what is left of humanity and build a semblance of unity and coexistence with the other surviving alien races on Refuge. The End continues its path of destruction and the last Builder hILLA and some humans, including Gabriel Drum, continue to stop The End.
  • Blackmail: During President Blades' public address about the Builders, Speaker of the House Christopher Higgins is blackmailed by Isobel to drop the impeachment against Blades and resign himself from office or else his secret affair with the First Lady will go public in which he will be depicted as the villainous adulterer while the First Lady will be treated as a victim and the President will be blameless.
  • Bodyguard Betrayal: President Blades' closest confidant Secret Service Agent Pete tried to forced him to surrender America in the Third World War by holding his wife hostage given that the country is clearly not winning and going down hill, and that with Earth in total turmoil and thereby leaving it completely vulnerable to the aliens.
  • Book Ends: The story began with President Blades reading a letter left by his predecessor and ends with Blades writing a letter to his successor. This is juxtapose to 98th President Caroline Hayden-Blades also writing a letter to her successor.
  • Cool Starship: The Clarke.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: President Blades gives a Rousing Speech to his family and entire staff. Even though the apocalypse looms, Blades states that humanity should not despair but keep standing until they can't stand up anymore.
    You stay standing, even though you know it'd all be over if you just laid down. No more struggle, no more pain. Laying down would be the easy thing. Probably the smart thing. Instead you stay standing. Until you can't stand up anymore.
  • Emergency Presidential Address:
    • President Blades eventually reveal to the world about the Builders and as well breaking the news about Germany's undeclared war against the US that ultimately leads to World War III.
    • Blades also gives the bad news of a cosmic cataclysm that will inevitably destroy Earth. Surprising enough, the public is not in full panic mode but are in a state of general shock. At least for a while.
  • Expy: Blades is based on Barack Obama, as both Presidents having inherited a host of complicated problems from their predecessors. Furthermore, Blades continued to enforce Carroll's policies much like Obama continued the Bush administration's surveillance of foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. The afterword to the first issue has the authors directly state that the major storyline facing Blades is an analysis of the moral dilemmas facing Obama once he took office, i.e., that after receiving the secret presidential debrief, maybe some of these controversial policies really were too dangerous to stop doing.
    • Former President Francis Carroll is an expy for George W. Bush on at least a general level as a result: both Bush and Carroll were dogged by controversial foreign wars, then succeeded by younger opposition-party presidents of different ethnicity (Blades/Obama) who promised to halt their policies, only for their successors to keep at least some of their controversial programs active.
      • On a specific level, President Carroll is a very cynical condensation of the worst aspects of both President Bush and Vice President Cheney, stripped of redeeming qualities - or at least, the public persona their party tried to present. Both Carroll and Bush had a self-perception that they were the wise president guiding the nation through crisis, like FDR or Lincoln - only to be genuinely surprised and almost childishly insulted when their opponents point out gaping failures of logic and foresight in their plans. Carroll, however, takes this to a science fiction extreme.
  • Fallen States of America: The US seems to be coming down very hard into the wake of World War III as Hawaii and Alaska are apparently deciding to secede, domestic terrorism is on the rise, and the only sustainable job the American people can get is by enlisting in the military. President Blades is also very certain that if the world knows that the "Free Earth Alliance" is run by an ex-President then there will surely be another American civil war.
  • First Contact: Dr. Portek initially raise the possibilities of why the aliens are in the solar system's asteroid belt:
    • Are they aware of humanity? Yes, as humans has been sending out signals into space for decades and made their attempts to be known to alien life through SETI and the Voyager programs.
    • Do they care that humanity is in the solar system? Almost certainly yes. On the one hand, they may see humanity as too primitive and harmless and incapable of interstellar travel, and they're purely here for the abundant mineral resources in the asteroid belt. On the other hand, statistically few solar systems can support intelligent life, and there are vastly more dead star systems where they could gather such resources without the hassle of dealing with a native species. Moreover, they're fairly certain that the aliens aren't from a nearby star system (SETI would have seen some trace of their signals decades ago), so they apparently came a long way and skipped over nearer but uninhabited systems to reach us. So no, they couldn't just be here for mineral resources, the unique thing about our solar system is that it has intelligent life.
    • Do they want something from or for humanity? Very probably. It's possible that they don't want anything at all and are purely here for anthropological reasons and scientific observation. However, this possibility is dispelled when the Clarke reaches the belt in issue #1 and discovers that the aliens have built a moon-sized construct there (mined from local resources), dubbed "the Chandelier". You don't build something on that scale for anthropological research. The Chandelier is soon revealed to be a powerful weapon when a test shot from it vaporizes one of Jupiter's small asteroid-moons (using up more energy in one shot than all of Earth's nuclear weapons put together). It is later reveal that the Builders are here trying to save Earth from an unknown, greater threat that is coming for the planet.
      • Or more specifically saving what is little left of Earth while delaying said threat from destroying it.
  • From Bad to Worse: America is in an economic crisis and its oversea wars are becoming very unpopular. At the advice of his Chief of Staff Elijah Green, Blades tries to change it by revealing to the public about the Builders on the basis that the American public will be more reasonable and therefore allowing America to be pull out from the wars and the funds will be put towards to good use. It doesn't and it leads to World War III.
    • While World War III is happening, the Clarke crew discovered that there is a large asteroid heading towards Earth and they have no way of warning their world.
    • It gets even worse for why the aliens are here: they are trying to damage a galaxy-ending threat and Earth is inevitably not going to survive it, just like any other planet for the last millions of years.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Outer Space Corps. OSCAR.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Hundreds of millions of years ago, the alien Builders had seemingly peaked as a species, having totally colonized and 'harmonized' with their solar system; they do not have the resources to expand further and hence their species is stagnating and being forced to cull its own birthrate to prevent total exhaustion. Three Builders come up with a plan to utilize a device of their making, linked to the gigantic Dyson-Sphere esque infrastructure that connects their whole interplanetary society, to collect "an unusually high gamma ray burst" that will emit from a nearby dying star which will give the species enough power to go on for many more generations and expand outside their system. Somehow, the energy interacts in a wholly unexpected way with the system, which not only destroys the Builder's entire society, leaving the three 'gatherers' as the last of their kind, but somehow turns the resulting energy mass into an all-consuming oblivion that begins to slowly be drawn into the center of the Milky Way, meaning that it will, over the course of many millions of years, eventually 'eat' the entire galaxy until there's nothing left. Few things in fiction have gone as wrong as that.note 
  • Government Conspiracy: 43rd President Francis T. Carroll has been keeping secret an extraterrestrial object for seven years, and it has fallen to his newly elected successor, Stephen Blades, to continue the task.
  • Heroic BSoD: President Blades falls into this after seeing LEOPRD being taken control by Carroll to destroy Moscow and then causing it to self-destruct while leaving Earth helplessly defenseless and without any backup plans just as the asteroid is about to hit it within a few hours. However, Blades comes out of his funk when the asteroid turns out to be a spaceship.
    • Subverted when Gabriel Drums, acting ambassador of the Builders, told Blades that the Earth will be destroyed by a cosmic catastrophe and there is no way to save it. Only a few hundred humans will be able to evacuate the planet.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Combined with Going Down with the Ship, Overholt gives his life to save his crew from the Builders by detonating the ''Clarke's'' nuclear reactor and taking the Builders with him. However, this doesn't kill them.
  • Hope Spot: Narrowly averted. The Clarke crew managed to warn the American government about the incoming asteroid and with the LEOPRD they could destroy it. But then Russia launches its nuclear missiles to destroy the LEOPRD. But fortunately, the LEOPRD's defense system destroyed the missiles except for one which missed its target due to faulty Cold War era engineering.
    • Double Subverted when Carroll deliberately destroyed the LEOPRD in according to his plan of allowing himself and his handpicked people to survive the asteroid. However, it is Double Subverted again as the asteroid is revealed to be a spaceship that harmlessly hovers over the National Mall.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Sonja Jameson who gets a special interview with Francis Carroll and later escapes from his secret bunker.
  • It's All About Me: Former President Francis Carroll. The series starts out revealing that many of his controversial policies were actually well-intended and meant to ready Earth for a potential alien invasion, but as it progresses Carroll is increasingly revealed to be a petty man-child who isn't concerned with saving the United States or humanity so much as his with ensuring that he is the one who gets to do it.
    • Carroll assumed that despite leaving office, Blades would still follow all of his commands, apparently out of gratitude for the foresight Carroll had to put together Project Monolith. Instead, Blades has no intention of being Carroll's puppet and refuses his "suggestions". Ultimately, instead of revering Carroll's sage leadership, Blades delivers an EPIC "Reason You Suck" Speech accurately pointing out how Carroll mishandled the situation and cost thousands of American lives. Carroll insisted that the Project Monolith weapons remain hidden until the aliens actually arrive so they don't "tip their hand", disagreeing when Blades ordered them put in the field to quickly end the foreign interventions Carroll started. Carroll also wanted the foreign wars to keep going to "churn out a steady supply of battle-hardened veterans". Blades, however, succinctly points out that Carroll never even knew if the alien attack would involve a ground war at all (and in fact, it won't); not only were American lives lost for no reason, those were resources that could have been devoted to their satellite defense network (which as it turns out, they did need).
    • Incensed, Carroll outright commits high treason by giving all Project Monolith weapons specifications to foreign powers, assembling the "Free Earth Alliance" of Germany, Britain, and Russia, who also start mass producing them, and then directs them in a literal World War III that kills tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides. It seems the only reason Carroll put together the alliance is so he can be its shadow-leader: the Project Monolith weapons have already been publicly revealed so there's no sense in fighting a war to "hide" them anymore.
    • Carroll thinks of himself as if he's president again, leading the Free Earth Alliance to secure the planet in World War III before the alien invasion. Just like Blades before him, however, the leaders of these countries don't feel compelled to blindly follow his orders - given that at this point he's not only an unelected information broker but a traitor to his own country with no formal standing in their governments. Nonetheless he is both surprised and insulted by their response. When Russia's leadership bluntly makes it clear that they won't be his puppet, Carroll hijacks the LEOPRD laser-defense Kill Sat and vaporizes Moscow.
    • Subsequently it appears that the aliens have shot an asteroid on a trajectory to hit Earth, but instead of using the LEOPRD to defend the United States or the Free Earth Alliance, Carroll self-destructs the defensive satellite, then reveals his ultimate Plan B: let the asteroid devastate Earth while he and his closest followers ride out the destruction in a massive bunker complex, where he will - again - end up being hailed as their savior. Ultimately, Carroll wasn't trying to defend anyone else from the aliens, he just wanted to be king of the ashes.
  • Kill Sat: The Chandelier reveals its capabilities by destroying Carme, one of Jupiter's moons.
    • America's Project Monolith also have one called LEOPRD and it is use to destroy the headquarters of a German panzer division in retaliation to the destruction of Forward Operating Base Hurricane.
  • Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Kyoko is not very happy when she catches Manesh in the middle of having sex with a Fractual projection of her.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Invoked by Gabriel Drums when he meets his daughter Astra for the first time.
  • Oh, Crap!: Jack and Pritchard's reactions to seeing World War III happening on Earth while the Clarke crew were out of the loop for over nine months.
  • One-Way Trip: The Clarke is designed as a one-way trip with its crew there by choice, and it's also designed to destroy the Builders should the aliens are proven to be hostile.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: Stephen Blades and his predecessor Francis T. Carroll.
    • German Chancellor Agnes Volcker.
  • Pluto Is Expendable: Pluto is the first celestial object in the Solar System to be destroyed by the End.
  • President Action: Blades is a skilled boxer.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: After learning about Elijah's attempt on his life courtesy of Brian Michter, Blades reassigned him to Liberia. Michter is last heard to be in Somalia.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Stephen Blades, once he learns what his predecessor has been hiding for the last eight years.
  • Sex for Services: The First Lady Isobel Blades offer to have sex with the Speaker of the House and her former boyfriend Christopher Higgins in order to drop his plans for impeachment against her husband. Higgins doesn't honor the deal after their sensual affair.
  • Skewed Priorities: While there is a alien presence in the Asteroid Belt that may likely pose a threat to Earth, Chief of Staff Elijah Green tries to make President Blades to focus on fixing the political mess that Francis Carroll had made during his term.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Builders. Vaguely cephalopod-like, with eight arms/tentacles. They use base-six math instead of base-eight math, though, because two arms are considered "sacred" for some reason, and not used for manual labor. Beyond mere biology, the comic makes it a point that aliens are alien - they don't think like humans. Their exact motivations hinge on their Blue-and-Orange Morality which is not immediately comprehensible. Basic linguistic communication is achieved but their syntax can be vague and difficult to understand: most statements they make in a running conversation are framed with the verb "becomes", i.e. Astronaut: "Why did you build this moon-sized construct in the asteroid belt?" Builder: "Waiting becomes completion".
    • There are only actually three Builders on the Chandelier, given the high level of automation in their advanced technology. The Chandelier was built and is maintained by an army of hundreds of football-sized automatons dubbed "Fractals". They are also pretty weird: like synthetic fractal life forms, every part of them in a smaller scale duplicate of the whole. They look like a football made out of metallic bands that have been twisted together in a spiral shape...with other little spirals growing off of it, branching into smaller ones.
  • Storyboarding the Apocalypse:
    • After merging with the Builders, Pritchard explains to his crew about the "End".
    • Dr. Portek explains to President Blades and everyone present that the "End" could arrive at any moment or even now just as he is explaining this.
  • The Alliance: The "Free Earth Alliance" which primarily consists of Germany, Russia, and Britain and formed by Carroll to oppose the United States.
  • The Bus Came Back: Brian Michter returns from Somalia to Carroll's graces sometime after World War III began.
  • The Team: The crew of the Clarke:
  • The Unmasqued World: The fallout of the world learning about the Builders leads to World War III.
  • Throwaway Country: Manila is basically "gone" during World War III.
  • Title Drop: "Letter 44" is a letter labeled with the number "44" (meaning for the 44th President of the United States) left by Francis Carroll to Stephen Blades which revealed the latter to the existence of the Builders.
    • Blades later reply to Carroll with "Letter 43," telling him how much he sucks as he is not running the country nor will he be able to manipulate his administration.
  • Too Awesome to Use: Project Monolith's R&D is host to a wide range of advanced weapons that are decades ahead such as Powered Armor, recoil free high caliber guns, Attack Drones, and triple-barrel tanks. However, they are not meant to be fielded in America's wars as President Carroll believed that displaying them before the aliens would be a mistake and instead intended to use them as a trump card when the aliens underestimate America's capabilities. Also, showing these weapons suddenly to the public would cause other nations to be nervous and envious of America. But Blades is not very pleased by it when the weapons (costing billions of dollars each month) could have saved the lives of American soldiers. He eventually puts them into use after having enough of Carroll's manipulations. However, this does cause nations to be cautious about America.
  • Transhuman Treachery: Willett strongly suspects Gomez to be working for the Builders. He is wrong as Gomez is still willing to help his crew and saving Earth even at the cost of his own life.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Former President Carroll has then when Russia acts against his wishes, making Carroll realize he isn't as in control of the situation as he thought he was, and that his new position doesn't make him as influential as he was when he was president.
    • Carrol again in front of his followers when the meteor turns out to be a spaceship, meaning Earth was never in danger and his plans to backstab his allies and only take in those most loyal to him to survive is now revealed and he publicly embarrassed himself in front of his loyal followers.
  • Vindicated by History: In-universe. Despite practically committing treason against America and orchestrating World War III, Francis Carroll is remembered by the survivors of humanity on Remnant for his role for constructing the Clarke and sending it to the Chandelier that subsequently allowed humanity to survive from the destruction of Earth.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Former President Francis Carroll wanted humanity to be prepare for the arrival of the Builders should they ever pose a threat by having the US military be more involved in unpopular wars in the Middle East in order to have combat-veteran soldiers and spending America's entire budget on Project Monolith at the costs for putting thousands of America's soldiers in harm's way and burdening the American (and international) economy.
    • He finally jumped off the slippery slope when he planned for gathering a large number of Carroll loyalists to live in an underground bunker and allow Earth to be devastated by either a world war, a possible alien invasion, or an asteroid while he and his followers survive the fallout and re-inhabit the planet.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Stephen Blades and Christopher Higgins used to be friends until they shared affection for Isobel, who eventually chose to marry Blades. The tense relationship doesn't help when Blades is President and Higgins is the Speaker of the House and opposed to the President's policies.
  • Wham Line:
    • When Blades is told that the nuclear destruction of FOB Hurricane in Afghanistan instantly killed over 13,000 American soldiers, including most of the currently deployed Project Monolith gear (though state-side facilities eventually produce more).
    • The origin of the nuke that destroyed FOB Hurricane:
    Blades: At this point, AJ, I just want the name.
    A.J.: Germany, sir. We're certain.
    Blades: *Beat* Germany?
    • President Blades's TV address denouncing Germany's destruction of FOB Hurricane, where he reveals that powered armor and next-generation vehicles weren't the only weapons Project Monolith produced: they also have an orbital laser Kill Sat called LEOPRD. Live on TV, Blades then uses it to instantly vaporize a military base in Germany containing an entire panzer brigade, equal payback for the American army destroyed in Afghanistan. World War III begins.
    • Astra's first words.
    Would you like to know why the Builders are here, Mother? Because that's an easy one. I know that.
    • Blades revealing how many people are going to be evacuated from Earth by the builders.
    Isobel: How many?
    Blades: Six-hundred and sixty-six.
  • World War III: The USA, China, France, and Japan vs the "Free Earth Alliance" (Germany, Britain, Russia, plus the "smaller nations", among them Brazil). Generally, China and Japan's forces fight Russia, while the United States and France deal with the UK and Germany. By the time a ceasefire is abruptly called after nine months, Manilla and Moscow have been destroyed.
  • You Are in Command Now: Overholt gives his command authority to Willett before making his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Zero-G Spot: Kyoko and Willett.