ADVANCE REVIEW: Descender #1
By Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen and Steve Wands
The highly anticipated and recently film-optioned Descender has finally arrived and, contrary to its title, it absolutely soars. Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen have delivered a wonder of a first issue that delights in its dream-like ability to capture your imagination and whisk you away to a place where it seems anything can happen. Blending together science-fiction and even glimmers of horror, this nascent title hits the ground running with the same creative fervor that Saga did lo those many years ago, all while structuring it around the disarmingly comfortable and familiar tale of a boy and his dog. Fluid in its presentation with an eerie and ethereal aura, this isn’t just a unique comic read – it’s a one of a kind comic experience.
Lemire has always managed to explore, as the best science fiction always does, the true elements of what makes us human even in a time and place only partially reminiscent of our own. Sweet Tooth is certainly the best example of this type of thematic investigation as it mixed with heart-wrenching emotional gravitas, and Descender certainly looks to be in that same vein for all the best reasons. In an unknown time, somewhere in the impossible expanse of space an advanced society comprised of nine planets and it’s roughly 5.5 billion inhabitants are united under a galactic governing council. Sleek cars and machinery and robotic assistants are fully ingrained into the very fabric of day-to-day life and then an unimaginable catastrophe occurs, culling life to a mere fifth of what it once was and sparking a violent anti-robot backlash. All the while a little boy sleeps in the lifeless remains of a moon mining colony. The boy, of course, is more than he seems (the cover alone provides you with this) and Lemire certainly looks to be setting up an examination into the human identity, already sowing the seeds of comparing DNA to a robot’s codex. There’s the complexity of a multi-planet governmental system to explore, the mystery of the catastrophe’s origins and how it all will, no doubt, relate to one little child companion bot.
Unleashing a bevy of high-concept information right from the start, the issue never feels overwhelming. Instead it moves as though it’s guiding you, showing you one thing and giving you just enough time to grasp the fringes of the idea and then wisp you away to the next one leaving you enchanted and dying to know more. Lemire has structured this inaugural issue beautifully and allows the reader to get comfortable with the surroundings and introduce Tim in a haunting, yet charming fashion. It’s not quite WALL-E (it’s unquestionably all its own) but the sentiment is certainly reminiscent. While Tim’s scenes immediately make us sympathize (my god is that dog Bandit adorable!) Lemire swiftly and comfortably cuts back to the building machinations of Captain Telsa and formerly revered robotics genius, Dr. Quon. But to ensure no one settles in too much, lest they start to make assumptions about where this is all headed, Lemire makes sure to toss a curveball at its conclusion.
Dustin Nguyen is operating in his own universe of pure unadulterated beauty. Descender‘s story may be captivating and engulfing all its own, but Nguyen’s art is stunning and breathtaking to a degree that you’ll be convinced no one else could have possibly done this book. With the softest of lines and a watercolored finished on a bristol textured surface, the end result is mesmerizing. While the architecture and designs found throughout the futuristic Niyrata are convincingly airy and lustrous, Nguyen shapes a splash of devastation with heavy gloom. His palette works in vaporous echo blues and forceful pink on Tim’s surroundings while returning to a muddied brown and red fallen Niyrata. His tones shape the sterile whites into objects of contrast to the sharp red of Telsa’s hair or the shocking greens of flourishing flora and…look, this is a damn Japanese kaiga painting come to life incorporating all the majesty of the future’s possibility at once. It is, quite literally, stellar. One would be remiss not to also give a nod to the innovative lettering of Steve Wand who utilizes a number of unique word balloons like circuit-riddled synthetic voices and a scratched, uneven box for humanoids. It’s the full package from every member of the creative team with a damn star for a bow on top.
If this first issue is any indication, Descender is going to be one of those books. You know, the kind we talk about in joyous reverential praise for years to come normally reserved for the likes of Saga or Y: The Last Man or, more appropriately, Trillium. Lemire and Nguyen have something special on their hands, a book with world-building on a scale that tickles every facet of our imagination. We’ll see where we go from here, but for now Descender is a dream of a book. One you will never want to wake up from.