EXCLUSIVE: Descender Heads in New Direction After 'Rise of the Robots'

In the original pitch for Descender, New York Times bestselling writer Jeff Lemire and Eisner Award-winning artist Dustin Ngyuen believed that the upcoming arc, "Rise of the Robots," would be the end of their acclaimed sci-fi epic.

However, Lemire told CBR in this exclusive interview that he recently came up with a dramatic, new direction for the book that will push beyond "Rise of the Robots," which Image Comics is promoting at "the first Descender event," and further expand the universe and the conflicts pitting man against machine, with some characters facing an internal struggle.

Lemire shared exclusive cover art for the next two issues that he worked on with Nguyen, who traditionally handles the art on Descender by himself.

He also revealed updates on major characters, including Tim-21, Andy, Effie and Dr. Quon, as readers get ready for the July 19 release of Descender #22, and teased details about the planned Sony Pictures film adaptation, announced in 2015.

CBR: Don't get me wrong, I love you as a writer but I am always jazzed when you are drawing too. Tell me about the upcoming covers that you have illustrated for Descender.

Jeff Lemire: Dustin designed an image that would go across five covers, and I did the figures for each cover and he did the background. We kind of jammed on them.

When this series was announced, you told me you weren't going to provide art right away, but you definitely would want to at some point. After two years, and the first "event" happening in the series, I guess the time was right?

I have been so busy drawing my other stuff that there just hasn't been the time. But now, I get to inject a little bit of my art into the book and the world of Descender and it's been great. And it is extra special because I got to collaborate with Dustin. It's been really fun.

Interlocking covers for Descender #22, by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

Reading the solicitations for the upcoming arc, titled "Rise of the Robots," I have to admit, they read very much like this is the end of Descender. That said, there is a subhead for Descender #22 solicitation that screams: "THE FIRST DESCENDER EVENT STARTS HERE." Key word being "first." Does this mean that I don't have to worry, and Descender isn't coming to an end?

It's the end of something. [Laughs] Something is going to change quite dramatically. Interestingly enough, the book took a weird twist on us about two or three months ago. I always had an ending in mind and we were working towards that, but as we got closer to that ending and we started working on "Rise of the Robots," I started to get some new ideas about some things that we could do after that ending. What was originally going to be our ending has now become a big storyline leading to a whole other path that we're going to go on afterwards. We're really excited about it even though we didn't really anticipate it. I don't think we would have come up with it right from the start but it came out of everything that we were doing and it came out of working on this book and in this world for two years. As stories grow and characters start to evolve, things start to present themselves. This event, "Rise of the Robots," in the original plan, probably would have been the ending of the series. But it's actually building up to a big moment in the series that spins off into new things.

At the end of the last arc, many, if not all, of the main characters were in the midst of some level of peril. The biggest is the revelation that Tim-22 has swapped spots with Tim-21 and our hero is still trapped back on Machine Moon with the Hardwire while his evil doppelganger is traveling back to supposed safety and the UGC with Telsa and Dr. Quon. Nothing is easy for Tim-21, is it? But I guess, where is the fun in that.

The whole series grew out of Tim-21. I feel like since we started the world of Descender, it's become so big, so for me, as the writer, the thing that I have to be careful of every issue is to make sure that he remains the heart of the story. I don't want to lose him into amongst everything else that's going on. I don't want him to just be a football that gets passed around between the other characters as a plot device. That's the big challenge. Tim-21 is the heart of this thing. And every issue should come back to him and really reflect his point of view.

And I love Tim-22 too. In the beginning, he wasn't even really a character that I had in mind. When I first started writing the initial outlines for the series, he kind of just popped into my head and has since, taken on a life of his own. He's ended up playing a much bigger role than I ever thought he would. But he's a blast to write. It's fun to have a character that is so hateable. [Laughs]

Descender #22, by Dustin Nguyen

Tim-22 isn't the only character that you've introduced that has a mean streak. In fact, just about everyone in Descender has made questionable decisions during the run of this series, which would label them a bad guy, including the UCG as a political organization. I think that's part of what makes Descender so compelling. You have so many characters just trying to survive that they have to straddle the fence and make some really tough choices.

Even when I have a character that is very clearly the villain or there is a group of villains, you really have to make their choices realistic. You want their motivation to be something understandable. For me, it's certainly not a reach to think a government in place, like the UGC, would start acting out of fear. The galaxy has been ravaged by all kinds of violence and terror over the past decade and now we see them reacting out of fear and making choices with the long-term good in mind. They are reacting to violence with violence now and that's never a good idea but it's also understandable.

Again, while figuratively, you have many characters straddling the fence, you literally have a number of characters that are half-human/half robot and their decisions are based on these two halves fighting against each other internally. Beyond Tim-21, we also have Effie and Dr. Quon, who is a favorite of mine. It's really not that easy to decide who to root for in Descender except for Tim-21 and wherever he lands in all of this. I guess that's half the fun. [Laughs]

Yeah. It would have been really easy from the outset to make it a book where all of the robots are good and you root for them while all of the human and alien characters are the bad guys. Or vice-versa. But that's not how things would be. That's not very realistic. The truth is that on each side there are all different shades of good and evil and people making decisions and I think Quon, more than any other character, embodies that chaotic state of the universe. Yes, he is human but he is also the father of robotics. And then when we find out later, of course, that he is as trustworthy as he set himself up to be. A lot of advancements that he made in robotics were stolen from other people's work and you really have to start questioning everything that he does. And now, that conflict within him is embodied by the fact that he has now literally become part machine. What will see as the series moves forward now is that he is becoming more robotic and it will be interesting to see how that changes his personality, his outlook and his allegiances.

Another character that is obviously torn by his allegiances is Andy, who was introduced as Tim-21's 'brother' but has since moved beyond that love and is now hunting robots as a Scrapper. And just when he was starting to warm to robots again, he learns about Driller's role in the death of his mother. Is a happy reunion with Tim-21 even possible now, because it seemed close there for a while but now I am not so sure?

That's obviously a question that I won't answer right now but clearly Andy is a character we have seen change as things continue to happen very quickly. He been going through some pretty dramatic situations and they are really all altering his point of view. I think his relationship with Queen Between/Effie embodies that. She's part machine and part human and Andy clearly loves a part of her and has a really hard accepting another part of her. We're see Andy's struggles played out through their relationship and I do think that as it is inevitable that Andy and Tim-21 meet up again at some point, I don't want to say when, it may not be in the way that either of them ever thought it would be.

Recently you stopped working for Marvel Comics, and now you're working predominantly on creator-owned projects. Speaking with you, it's clear that you love world-building and expanding these original concepts far beyond their initial pitches. Is that the best part of creator-owned work?

Absolutely. You've seen, over the past few months, my career shift towards almost completely creator-owned. I've dropped all of my Marvel stuff. There is a reason for that. I've reached a point in my career where I want to tell my own stories the way that I want to tell them. I don't want to have to over explain everything or justify every decision that I make. I just want to tell the stories that I want to tell. Image allows us to do that. And I think Descender is a good example of that. We've created this massive world and now we're free to play in it. We can do whatever we want. Like I said, we had an end in mind and we're getting close to what we thought was the end but I kind of came up with this whole new direction and we were free to follow that and we didn't have to pitch it or justify it. And it's great to work with that kind of confidence. You can write what you want to write and feel good about it and know that it is going to be drawn and published that way. The freedom is hard to match.

Finally, do you have any updates on the Descender movie?

Yes, things are happening but I'm not at liberty to discuss any of them, unfortunately. It's still very much in development at Sony and there have been some recent developments but again, nothing that I am really allowed to talk about yet.

Descender #22 by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen goes on sale Wednesday from Image Comics.

The Avengers Make a Triumphant Final Stand in the Far-Off Future!

More in CBR Exclusives