SPOILER ALERT: The following interview discusses specific events and plot points from "Descender" #4, on sale now.
In his 1968 sci-fi novel, Philip K. Dick famously asked, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" Fast forward 47 years, and Jeff Lemire is readying readers of his Image Comics series "Descender" for his answer to the question -- though he admits the revelations aren't going to come right away.
CBR News spoke with Lemire to discuss "Descender" #4, which was released this week, and the cartoonist shared that the dreams Tim-21 -- the robot boy at the center of Lemire and co-creator Dustin Nguyen's ongoing space opera -- is experiencing are a major part of the story's overall mythology but he's not ready to reveal just yet what they all mean and whether or not they truly are dreams.
Lemire did share his thoughts on the growing cast of the ever-expanding "Descender" universe, however, saying that Driller, the lumbering mining droid, and at least one of the United Galactic Council's military leaders have skeletons (perhaps literally) in the closet. Meanwhile, one of the Scrappers that captured Tim at the end of this week's issue promises to play an even larger role in the series' second arc.
CBR News: This issue features a now-captured Tim-21 being evaluated by Dr. Quon, with Tim attempting to explain his dreams to Dr. Quon and Telsa. We know that Philip K. Dick famously asked if androids dreamed of electric sheep, but Quon and Telsa say that machines can't dream. Does Tim-21?
Jeff Lemire: [Laughs] I can't really comment on the dream because it's a big part of the mystery of the book. I know what it is and what it means, but all I will say is that the dream is very important. There are a lot of clues and symbolism in the dream that hint at things to come.
To answer your question, whether it was a dream or something else is obviously a part of the plot. These are all things that I will reveal. It's not stuff that will be left dangling and will never tie up, so keep reading.
Of course, the truth is out there. [Laughs] It makes me think of TV series like "Lost," "X-Files" and "Twin Peaks," shows that have to find that balance of revealing too much, too early, or hanging on too late for the payoff. I'm not looking for a definitive book count, but do you know how "Descender" ends?
I definitely have an ending. I know the whole story. I know the answers to all of the mysteries. That's all been worked out ahead of time. And you're right, a lot of times in television or even comics, the plot is centered around the mysteries. You get the sense that writers are winging it and making it up as they go along, and sometimes, the endings aren't as satisfying as you'd want them to be. I was really careful. I spent a lot of time on "Descender" before it was announced, or Dustin even started drawing it. I really worked the mythology out, and I know where everything is going. I have a definite point-by-point plan.
That said, it's a rough order. You go by your gut as you're writing, script to script, and you get the sense when you need to reveal something, and that creates a domino effect. Sometimes, you want to hold off a bit longer and let the book breathe.
I just wrote "Descender" #10 and #11. I gave them to Dustin, and everything in them was stuff that I planned, but something about it wasn't sitting right with me. I had Dustin read it, and I went back and read it, and I realized that I was going too fast and was revealing too much, too soon. I think some of the best parts of "Descender" are the quiet moments with Tim, so you have to be careful that you don't let these big mysteries take over to the point where you don't have time to do that stuff anymore. I don't want to force these huge cliffhangers or huge reveals just for the sake of it. It's a learning process, but luckily, I'm so far ahead that I can write a script that takes a wrong turn and catch myself and rewrite things.
Back to Tim and whether or not he can dream -- machines may not be able to dream, but Tim is no ordinary machine, is he?
If Tim was just another robot among millions in this galaxy, there would be nothing special about him and nothing to center a story around. Tim is unique, and what exactly that is and how that happened will be revealed -- some of that sooner rather than later. That's why he is the focal point of various factions across the galaxy.
Maybe I'm late to the game or missed something, but when Dr. Quon is examining Tim-21, he explains that "ALL of the Tims were designed to help and protect their human companions." Does that mean there was a Tim-1 through 20, and 22 and beyond? And will get to see any other Tims in "Descender"?
In theory, yes, there would have been a whole series of Tims, and Tim would have been the twenty-first iteration of these robots that Quon created. But will we see more? I hadn't thought about that, but there could be some potential there, down the road. We allude to the fact that Tim is so special because he may be the last of these Tims that survived the attacks and the subsequent robot culls.
One of my favorite characters from "Sweet Tooth" was Dr. Singh. With what he believed to be the best of intentions, Singh made some poor choices along the way with Gus, and I see some similarities between Singh and Quon. Can you talk about the role of the sympathetic scientist in "Descender" as Quon, Tim's creator, is obviously troubled by where things currently stand?
I agree that there is a definite similarity between Quon and Dr. Singh from "Sweet Tooth." Both "Sweet Tooth" and "Descender" are about science gone wrong. In "Sweet Tooth," there were the experiments that created the hybrids and in "Descender," there is the rise of machines. And both led to disasters. With both Singh and Quon, you get these characters that are vanguards of scientific exploration and it went wrong on them. They're both broken. And I love the idea of the analytical, scientific mind that's been broken and is now a fragile, emotional shell. There is something really compelling to me about writing that kind of character.
While I gravitate towards Tim and Quon, I really don't trust Telsa, General Nagoki, Tullis -- frankly, anyone associated with the UGC. Should I?
That's a safe bet. One of the characters that you've mentioned, I won't say which one, has a lot of [Laughs] skeletons in the closet. Some of that stuff is going to start to come out and there are a series of reveals at the end of the first arc, which are "Descender" #5 and #6 -- mostly #6. There are going to be a number of big reveals. The curtain is pulled back on a few things, which shines a new light on some of the characters that you've been reading about.
I love Driller the Killer, too. He reminds me of Warren Beatty trying to be a bad ass in "Bulworth," or Will Ferrell in "Get Hard." He's really trying to be a monster machine.
There are definitely some comic elements and light-heartedness to Driller. I feel a space opera needs a balance between the gut-wrenching emotion, the action and some comedy. But Driller has some secrets, too. There is a lot more to Driller than being a big, dumb tough guy robot.
We get a good look at the Scrappers hunting Tim in "Descender" #4 -- and they don't look human. What are they?
They're made up of pretty much every alien race in this galaxy or universe that we've created. There's not one prevailing race. It's a ragtag collection of bounty hunters from across the galaxy. Dustin's design sense tends to make them all look pretty sinister. [Laughs]
A few of scrappers, we'll get to know a bit more intimately. Two of them, in particular, will become main characters in the book during the second arc. They won't always be these two-dimensional bad guys. A couple of them will become integral to the plot.
Have we met them yet?
One of them.
As "Descender" #4 closes, the Scrappers are taking Tim to Gnish and the melting pits to meet the "big bosses." By the look of where they're heading, which is revealed on the final page, this is not a prime holiday destination.
[Laughs] Before I started writing the scripts, I spent the better part of a year building the world and the mythology of "Descender." I spent a lot of time thinking about the planets that would inhabit this universe and trying to give each of them a unique look and feel. Once you've done all of that, all of it might not make it into the final book, but it gives you a rich well of things to draw from when you need it.
The planet Gnish will become very important to the book, and this is our first hint at what's to come. It's a very dark place. The Gnishians were basically the instigators of the robot cull. They are probably the most fanatical race in the universe. It's a pretty nasty place for Tim.
"Descender" #4 by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen is available now.