The biggest news surrounding “Descender” #1 is that it was optioned for film prior to its first issue hitting the stands but, after reviewing the debut from Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, it’s very easy to see why that happened. The new creator-owned series is a high concept science fiction tale with a young robot boy and his robot dog at its heart. It’s a well-paced affair and fans of Lemire’s previous independent works will find plenty to enjoy here as well. He looks to be exploring themes similar to “Sweet Tooth’s,” like the innocence of an orphaned child in the face of a world that he understands far less than his own naivete would lead him to believe.
TIM-21, a relic of a time before androids were outlawed across the entirety of the United Galactic Council, may hold the key to understanding a massive holocaust that happened across the galaxy a decade prior when giant, planet-sized robots arrived from nowhere and executed large swaths of living creatures with no explanation for their actions. Amidst the grim backdrop, Lemire gives time for small character moments that define who the characters are throughout the book. I was almost disappointed that the solicitation information had already announced that Tim was an android, as the reveal is a great piece of the comic.
Nguyen illustrates the reveal with real wonder, the type of thing that would immediately be an iconic moment in an animated film. His illustrations throughout the issue continue the watercolor style he developed in books like “Little Gotham.” The character work is great, a lot of emotion conveyed in their expressions and body language. The absence of color on the world of Niyrata prior to the arrival of the Harvesters gives the affect of affluence, the spots of bright technology popping on a backdrop of stark white architecture that would make Apple proud. It’s a useful visual cue for the social status of the planet and gives the reader important context when Niyrata is revisited 10 years after the extinction level event. There is one single panel that suffers from the watercoloring effect early in the book, as it creates the illusion of a character being wall-eyed in a moment when sheer terror is required. That’s nitpicking, though, as the designs throughout are imaginative, culminating in a group of new characters that are the most visually interesting of all.
This is a book filled with imagination and a creative team that has proven across the medium that they know what makes a good story great. Nguyen’s page layouts have always been fluid and dynamic and Lemire is returning to themes that he knows well and can use to create striking, heart-wrenching narratives that are both fantastical and relatable. This is a book that feels like it knows where it is going; there’s a confidence in the storytelling that is important in a series where the concept is this large. There are larger mysteries presented, then dialed back to view the world through a more relatable personal lens, before it opens back up to the world at large. There’s a lot of potential in “Descender” and, if the market allows them the time to tell the story, it could be another home run for Image Comics.