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Ministry of Space
posted March 16, 2005
Warren Ellis, Chris Weston, Laura Martin
Image, 96 pages, $12.95
Warren Ellis makes his story of an alternate reality's post-WWII space program driven by Great Britain rather than a competing United States and Russia more interesting than it has any right to be because of how he and collaborators Weston and Martin plumb hidden depths in the visual language employed by Dan Dare's Frank Hampson's, as well as give new expression more frequently verbalized hopes made by futurists of the post-War period. In other words, Ministry of Space
is a story of an alternate reality made out of the first few baby steps that were taken in those directions. So it not only has the inner logic of well-researched fact work about the time -- for instance, the U.S. and Russia are left out of the loop by virtue of a British carpet bombing of the prominent laboratories, to-the-ground-bombing being a well-established skill of their Air Force -- but it has a design sense that comes from a whole group of imaginative possibilities finally unleashed. It's familiar although we've never seen it before.
Ellis smartly makes the achievements of the space program the high points of his narrative rather than focusing too directly on any one man's relationship to them, even his lead's. Things like the space plane, the space station and particularly the move to Mars play out in a kind of classic comics illustration glory, with a sweep that dwarfs any of the side concerns in much the same way that mankind's move into space is bigger than any of our perspectives on what it means. Ellis makes the point early on that the nature of Great Britain's national character may have made them better stewards for the space race to come, and the achievements kind of build on one another to make the reader a co-conspirator in wishing to see that theory play out. The story ends by examining directly and without histrionic comment the potential cost of this future, both in terms of the literal cost (how the program was funded) and a more subtly made point how the ascendancy of this version of British culture in the late 20th Century may have been less kind to other social advancements. It's not like there aren't hints of a downside -- one character is physically and morally stunted -- but Ellis and crew make a thrilling choice to end
the volume on that note. Not only does the moment hit that much harder but by that time, the reader has seen too much to easily reject one version of reality for the other.
Not the actual cover.