Graphic Novel/Comics Review

Ministry of Space

(2005) Warren Ellis, Chris Weston and Laura Martin, Titan Books, 8.99, trdpbk, 96pp, ISBN 1-84023-924-7

Originally a three-part mini-series from Image, this is a lovely graphic novel set in 2001 when the British space programme is under threat from the Americans. The premise is that at the end of World War II Britain, not the US, gained the talents of Werner von Braun and the German rocket scientists from Peenemunde and, with the aid of a 'black budget', developed space travel before anyone else. However, it is that very black budget which has the visionary Air Force personnel jumping through hoops in this novel. It is a potentially shattering secret that will remove Britain from the space race and end their dominance of spaceflight and spell the end of Sir John Dashwood's career.

This alternate history takes the country all the way from post-WWII Britain up to a massed Mars landing, complete with Union Jack in Martian soil. The Air Force centred view of space travel is beautifully played and is, quite consciously, very reminiscent of Frank Hampson's Dan Dare and Don Lawrence's Trigan Empire stories. The art and design is both nostalgic and fresh, in a retro-futuristic way, combining good characters with lovingly rendered spaceships and planetscapes. Laura Martin's colours particularly deserve praise - it would have been easy in such a tale to go all primary and garish, but she manages to combine the elements of 'old-fashioned' strips while still maintaining a realistic 'edge'. From the point of view of the writing, the best bits are all saved until the end, like being lured into a bear-trap by something sweet, and then having the jaws snap shut in an instant (I can't really explain it better without ruining the story for you, so I won't). In the same vein as Ellis's Orbiter, this is a must for kids young and old who remember the way the future used to be, especially those disappointed at the current state of affairs in the real world. Space is still the great unrealised dream of the human race and I can't begin to describe my own disappointment at a 2005 where we've done so little after having dreamed so much. I blame the politicians...

Tony Chester

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