Seemingly already poised for greatness with Sony Pictures’ purchase of the film rights (long before the release of the first issue), Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s brilliant, beautiful space opera lives up to the media hype, with lush illustration and rich world-building.
As one of the most in-demand creators in the medium, it’s no small wonder that the latest comics project from Jeff Lemire (Trillium, The Valiant, Hawkeye) has garnered so much attention from fans, critics, and Hollywood. Teamed up with fellow comics wunderkind Dustin Nguyen (Batman: Lil Gotham, American Vampire: Lord of Nightmares) for an epic journey set in the far-flung future, Lemire and his collaborator have shaped a bold new cosmic saga in Descender.
The plain fact of the matter is that Descender deserves all of the hype. Yes, fans have been rabid for this series – and this creative pairing – ever since it was first teased at Image Expo. And yes, Sony snapped up the film rights even before a single issue hit the stands.
But the thing is, this book delivers. And it’s easy to see why.
Over the past couple of years, thanks to the success of books such as Vaughn and Staples’ masterful Saga, independent publishers such as Image, Dark Horse, and BOOM! Studios have courted properties set firmly within the realm of science fiction – with varying degrees of success. It’s a difficult task to replicate the singular brilliance of a series so well-crafted and relevant.
Few books have come even remotely close to the depth of character development and world-building achieved in Saga. Good sci-fi – especially in comics – has to be founded on more than just a clever-cool central conceit. There has to be substance, as well as pretention and rubber science dressed up in arcane multi-syllabic technical jargon.
Descender follows the journey of self-discovery of the boy robot Tim-21, who awakes from a ten-year nap to find his universe catastrophically altered by the appearance of nine Celestial-class robots that wreaked massive devastation across the nine Core Planets of the United Galactic Council. Unbeknownst to Tim-21, his android “DNA” is an exact match for that of the mysterious artificial intelligence that powered each colossal construct.
At the center of a maelstrom of anti-robot sentiment sweeping the Core Planets, Tim-21’s creator Professor Quon has fallen from grace as the galaxy’s foremost expert in artificial intelligence. Pulled back into a field now considered apocryphal at best, Quon is tasked by his government to solve the mystery of the Nine’s attack on civilization and to procure Tim-21 – at all costs.
Lemire and Nguyen work in near-perfect conjunction to push all of the right buttons in this series. The first issue organically lays the foundation for their fictional milieu, through the creation of complex, well-rounded characters and intelligent world-building. There’s a weight infused in their far-future sci-fi setting that’s often lacking in similar books, evident in the intricate internal logic of the book’s unstable political climate and negative societal attitudes towards robots.
Lemire’s players are fully realized and carry with them a weight all of their own, allowing readers to identify with and understand their individual challenges, be they emotional, situational, or – as the case usually tends to be – some combination of both.
Quon’s tragic fall from grace is a palpable thing, hanging about his person like a funeral shroud, while Tim-21’s inherent, childlike innocence sits in drastic counterpoint to the harsh realities around him and the dangerous journey that lies ahead.
For his part, Nguyen successfully translates all of the complexity of Lemire’s characters and setting into a wonderful, galaxy-spanning tapestry that excites the imagination and stimulates the senses.
His work here is a revelation. Utilizing a fully-painted approach to the illustrations, Nguyen’s water-colors vacillate between hard, sleek lines in his technical designs and soft-edged bleeds for scenes requiring a gentler touch. The result is a distinct visual tone that endears the audience to the world of Descender by embracing the creative tension infused in Lemire’s script between the epic and the intimate.
Already one of the biggest comics stories of 2015, I predict that Descender’s reach will only increase in the coming months and years, as the mainstream consumer becomes fully aware of Tim-21’s operatic journey through the stars. Thoughtful, well-crafted, and undeniably heartfelt, Descender is already one of the best books published this year.
Jeff Lemire (W), Dustin Nguyen ( A) • Image Comics, $3.99, March 4, 2015.