By Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, and Steve Wands
Come on in, the waters fine. Seriously, thanks to the ever-spellbinding art of Dustin Nguyen, Descender confidently remains a series you can virtually swim and wade your through, relishing in the soporiferous marvels on nearly every page. Issue #3 is the ebb in the nascent rhythmic narrative, one where the action and furthering of the grand mysteries take a pause to slowly reveal subtler ones. It’s arguably the weakest issue thus far, but considering just how excellent a story Lemire and Nguyen have been giving us, that’s still leagues beyond the standard comic fare. Much like its dreamlike subject matter, it’s still a pleasure to get lost in.
Surprisingly, Dr. Quon and Telsa are already en route to meet (and rescue, as it turns out) everyone’s favorite omni-adolescent humanoid, as opposed to having a split narrative wherein we follow two separate groups of characters for a long stretch before finally having them come together. It’s a relief to see that in only three issues we already have “the gang” together and Lemire is clearly ready to smash some keys on “the feels” piano by developing the anomalous father/son relationship between Quon and Tim. We’re not there yet, though, because while on the liminal level this issue unites our players, the subliminal travels of Tim are what it’s really all about. Lemire has this issue play out like a David Lynch fever dream, but with a Pixar sensibility.
Clearly, this is a massively scaled story that Lemire and Nguyen are planning and the first two issues did well to deliver teases of the larger than life themes and threats, and then set a laser-focus on the audience’s emotional buoy, Tim-21 in issue #2. Here now we have an issue that takes time to develop Dr. Quon and Telsa and while there is some occasional trite dialogue between the two, it serves as a reminder of the larger world-building at work. There’s tension aplenty and accusatory remarks that hint at a wealth of backstory to mine, particularly for Telsa and exactly how she found herself spearheading this United Galactic Council mission. Then there’s Driller and his unique personality, with an understandable hatred of “hurrrrmans!” and endearing kinship with Tim. While firmly rooting us in the small moment, Lemire ensures that there isn’t just a whole other world left to play with; there’s a whole damn universe he’s ready to show us.
Let’s get down to brass tacks; Dustin Nguyen is the reason to pick this issue up. It’s a visual study in contrast and balance, the way it flows from its lavish and comforting warm washes in Tim’s surreal undead journey to the sterile, emptiness of the cool lunar setting. Ironically, and no doubt intentionally, given the bleached setting and garb of Quon and Telsa, the thing that stounds out as having the most life is Tim and that is cleverly delightful. On the brink of death and life, the robot is the one surrounded by ghosts both in and out of his dream-state. Nguyen’s color choices and their as always ethereal water color application continues to pair beautifully with his wispy pencils, but this issue he effortlessly conveys real weight to the foreboding Driller and the torn-asunder legion of ghost (maybe?) bots. It’s sleek, it’s cold, it’s heavy, and then it’s hot as it can get; Nguyen delivers a visual cavalcade of a tactile experience here and it flows together with surprising ease.
While it’s typically a job well done by a letterer when one hardly notices their work, the added dimension brought to this world by Steve Wands is a welcome sight. Your mileage may vary, but the word-balloon and font choices made by Wands thoroughly reinforces the myriad of robotic voices found throughout Descender. Eraz-435’s voice in particular stands out, though if reading digitally, one might want to zoom in a tad in order to make the unique font choice more legible. Robots are in the forefront, especially their rights as individuals, so by creating distinct lettering for each automaton and/or disembodied voice, Wands helps make them all the more real and sympathetic.
Descender #3 might have slowed the momentum just ever so slightly, but it still packs a wallop of visual treats. Lemire and Nguyen continue to play with a delicate balance of creating mystery, forming metaphors and ensuring maximum empathetic resonance. Quon and Telsa are still a little too cold, but with Tim-21 now in tow, no doubt Lemire will begin to weave an intricate web of inter-personal relationships and subvert expectations. After the emotional forward flow of the past issues, #3 is a well-timed ebb in what is a sea of near limitless potential and visual splendor.