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Pulp Culture
What if von Braun
had gone to England?


March 1, 2001
By Franklin Harris

You probably have heard this one before:

In the closing days of World War II, the American and Soviet armies were racing across Germany. With most of the country a bombed-out shell and Hitler dead by his own hand, the spoils of war were few, but not nonexistent.

When the Americans went home, they took with them the best and brightest of Germany's V2 rocket program. Wernher von Braun and his team set up shop in an Alabama cotton field in 1960, and nine years later, one of the Saturn V rockets they built launched Apollo 11 to the moon.

Three years later, it was all over. NASA mothballed the Apollo program, which had completed its goal of showing up the Russians, and a disappointed von Braun retired.

But what if it didn't happen that way?

What if the Americans arrived and found von Braun and his scientists gone -- spirited away, not by the Russians, but by the British?

That is the premise of "Ministry of Space," a three-issue comic book series arriving in comics shops in April.

Published by Image Comics, "Ministry of Space" is the brainchild of British writer Warren Ellis, arguably the most celebrated creator in comics today.

He's the creator getting the most ink in Entertainment Weekly, anyway, and with titles like "Transmetropolitan" and "Planetary" to his credit, it is hard to argue that his isn't one of the most fertile imaginations in the business.

Joining Ellis on "Ministry" are artist Chris Weston and colorist Laura DePuy.

"Ministry" is the first of what Ellis plans as an ongoing string of three-issue miniseries, all lacking the spandex-clad superheroes found in most comic books and designed to appeal to readers who don't normally read comics.

The story revolves around Sir John Dashwood, a former fighter pilot obsessed with getting Britain into space, no matter the cost in money and lives. Dashwood creates the Ministry of Space to achieve his dream and succeeds magnificently. By 1963, Britain has a space station and a moon base and is sending a flotilla to Mars.

By 2000, the Americans and the Russians are only taking their first tentative steps into a solar system that Britain rules.

But there is a dark secret at the tale's heart: Where did the Ministry get its funding?

"Back then (and possibly now, looking at the Chinese), it took a war economy to create the money to put people in space," Ellis told Fandom.com's Michael Doran. "A multitude of sins can be hidden by a war economy."

Of course, von Braun figures into the story, too, in the form of a character called The Doctor.

"Without The Doctor, nothing can happen," Ellis said. "The Doctor is treated incredibly badly, and suspects that he's done the wrong thing for himself to go with the English -- but he knows that the Americans would not have built the rockets he dreams of (which they didn't). He sees Dashwood as a necessary monster -- scary and crazy, but the only way for his dreams to live."

For more on "Ministry of Space" see Warren Ellis' official Web site, www.warrenellis.com.

But if you don't want to wait until April, you might check out another comic-book space adventure.

Writer Larry Young and artists Matt Smith and Charlie Adlard have created one of the best science fiction comics around (and I hope I'm not damning with faint praise, given the conspicuous lack of SF comics) in "Astronauts in Trouble."

The series so far is collected in three trade paperbacks: "Astronauts in Trouble: Live from the Moon," "Astronauts in Trouble -- Space: 1959," and "Astronauts in Trouble: One Shot, One Beer." Your friendly neighborhood comic-book retailer can order them for you, or see Young's Web site, www.planetlar.com.

"Live from the Moon" is the place to start. Set in the near future, it follows a television news crew as it tags along for mankind's triumphant return to the moon, courtesy of a billionaire space case who is part Ted Turner, part Ross Perot and quite possibly crazier than the two of them combined.

Like all SF, "Live from the Moon" does require that you suspend your disbelief. I mean, a TV news crew going to the moon and acting all heroic? Who is going to believe that?

Young and company do a splendid job of recapturing the gritty, blue-collar feel of Robert Heinlein's and Arthur C. Clarke's earliest works. It's the kind of story you'd more expect to find in a dog-eared issue of Astounding Science Fiction than between the covers of a comic book.

That's why it's so cool. Now go buy a copy before I have to hunt you down and beat you with a stick.

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