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Ministry of Space #3
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Chris Weston

Warren Ellis is a magician. I don’t think there’s any other way to put it.

Ministry of Space #3 was delayed for so long, many doubted it would ever come out. The story so far was relatively simple (though it played with chronology), and the mystery being built up was so easy to guess it didn’t make for much of a hook at all. Add to that some basic logic problems with the plot and you’ve got a formula for disaster.

Who would have guessed it might end up Ellis’ best mini-series to date?

The story picks up with Sir John Dashwood meeting the heads of the Ministry of Space aboard Churchill Space Station. They confirm that the Americans are indeed launching their own space program with a jaunt around the moon. Sir John can’t help but remark that the moon is British territory, to which they reply that the Americans will release information if they aren’t allowed safe passage: proof that the Ministry was founded using the most atrocious source of funding imaginable. But can it be true?

Sir John then flashes back to the days after the Doctor’s death in 1960, when he and Bridge were still bemoaning the German rocket scientist’s final work to put them on a nuclear engine program. Not much later, we’re outside the Victoria moon base where another leap is made: they’ve discovered water on the moon, making it feasible to begin colonization. Another flashforward brings us to Mr. Bridge’s launch to the moon… and the tragedy that followed.

Okay, let me get some quibbles out of the way: this series has nearly as much fantasy going on as it does science, history, and fiction. The idea that the British could launch a space program immediately after World War Two is preposterous. Even with all the minds behind Nazi rocketry at their fingertips and two billion pounds capitol to start with, they simply didn’t have the resources to reach the level of space travel Ellis depicts.

Even supposing they did, there’s no way the Americans and Soviets would have allowed them to dominate the skies. Why, the threat of Sputnik alone was enough to scare America into a space race. Think about that: we got off our asses for SPUTNIK. That’s like declaring war on someone ‘cause they threw a wiffle ball at you. Yet we would twiddle our thumbs while the Brits launched a fleet into space?

The British Empire was in decline following World War Two for numerous reasons. The loss of all their colonies meant a loss of raw materials and income. Since they didn’t need to protect shipping, they didn’t need to maintain a large navy, and without these elements, the country moved down the totem pole while the two superpowers grew.

Did the Americans and Soviets need rocketry to do so? Doubtful. Common sense has shown that just about anyone could have done a better job of things than NASA, but what are you supposed to do once you reach space? Unless you get raw materials or income while you’re up there, the whole thing is a loss, so you need funds from back home… and we’re back to square one.

That said, Ellis drops subtle hints along the way to show he’s not entirely serious or even particularly concerned with reality. This isn’t a book about national pride or sabre-rattling but the exploration of a dream. My first reading of the previous issues led me to believe it was Ellis’ dream (You can’t exactly blame me; he’s a rather vocal Brit who seems to have made a hobby of mocking Americans and their common foibles). But Ellis understands the consequences of such a dream too well to tell a blind tale of British glory.

The art, on the other hand, is probably the most glorious work you’ll see this year. Every page looks gorgeous and at least half a dozen will resonate long after you’ve finished reading. The amount of detail Chris Weston puts into his larger panels of the moon base are jaw-dropping. Some pages were so gorgeous I had to show them around to people I know, almost like I needed another set of eyes to be sure they were real.

And if ever I doubted that Laura (DePuy) Martin is the greatest colorist around— my eyes have been opened! I don’t know what she must do to get such results out of her team, but their work here is a new high for the medium. The page following Bridge’s moon mission launch is nearly photographic in quality, dramatic and powerful. But then the tones of the lunar surface are so light and subtle you just want to drink them in all day.

Oh, and did I mention there are no lens flares. Not one! I challenge you to find a greater sign of master coloring.

The conclusion to Ministry of Space has been a long time coming, but the team has delivered. Ellis especially. This story isn’t just a “What if…?” on space travel, but a lesson on power, obsession, and the way our ever-increasing ambitions can lure us further and further away from our humanity.

Ellis’ finale is the capstone on his lesson, and, quite frankly, it took my breath away. Ellis truly pulled a magic trick, keeping our eyes on one hand while the other was hard at work. Sure, the hand may have been fumbling around for three years, but, man, did he pull a giant rabbit out in the end.


Jason Schachat

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