This is an odd volume for a couple of reasons. It dials back the crazy plot twists the series usually thrives on and takes a break from advancing the main plot to focus on exploring the backstories of the crew of the Clarke as well as the alien Builders. In addition, “Blueshift” is also the penultimate volume of “Letter 44.” While I’m glad that it collects the issues that were left out of previous collections, all the development it offers here doesn’t really add much to the series.
It does explain some things, such as why mission commander Charlotte Hayden made the ill-advised decision to have a child while on the mission. Other things, such as what exactly happened to geologist Cary Rowan are still left up to us to guess based on his dickish, money-grubbing personality. I will say that anyone hungry for the awful decision-making that has characterized the parts of the series that focus on the Clarke will get more of that here. This is because the military is convinced that they need “leverage” to get some of the people they want on its crew to join up. As if telling them that they’d be going on an interstellar trip to meet aliens in order to make sure they have a world to come back to wouldn’t be enough.
Then you have the issue dedicated to telling us all about the Builders. It’s a perfectly decent little sci-fi story about how these aliens were trying to grow beyond their means and the “Oops!” in their efforts that effectively doomed the galaxy. The catch here is that this was already pretty obvious based on what we knew of them from the series so far. By having them effectively tell all this to us, all writer Charles Soule manages to accomplish is rob them of what little mystique they had left. Still, the issue does feature some very nice art from Langdon Foss.
In fact, the art for this volume is pretty solid all around with talented folks like Joelle Jones and Ryan Kelly handling some of the issues. That’s probably going to be the main reason you’ll want to check out this volume given the relatively inessential nature of the character backstories contained here. Arguably, this would probably have worked better as vol. 0 than vol. 5 since it sets up a lot of things but doesn’t actually spoil the core twist of the first issue. That’s not how things worked out here and vol. 5 is basically little more than a speed bump as we head into the final act.