Descender (2015 – ongoing, Image comics)
On a long quest to find new and fresh SF comics to read, I stumbled upon Descender and I immediately fell in love with it.
To keep it short and sweet, Descender invites you to enter a universe where androids are a common element in people’s daily lives, from companions to worker bots and so on. Of nine core planets that are under the rule of the United Galactic Council or UGC for short our attention is placed on Niyarata, the technological and cultural hub of the UGC, populated with over 5 billion people. Then, right from the get go an attack of colossal proportions takes place – a space invasion from gigantic robots called Harvesters, an unknown and unpredictable force.
Ten years later, Niyarata has a population of barely 1 billion and the androids, well they are facing genocide as people blame them for the attack. As humanity, shaken and nearly destroyed rise from the ashes of their demolished cities, only the robots remain to put the blame on and retaliate against. With an outlaw issued and bounty hunters known as Scrappers tracking them for sports or cash or revenge, the remaining androids have only two options – they can either flee, hoping to survive the melting pits, or they can take up arms and start a rebellion.
But the protagonist, a specific advanced type of android built by Dr. Jin Quon (so advanced its on par with Westworld hosts in its vision and mannerisms but like more deadly and yet sweet? ), a young boy bot companion for your child or elderly called TIM-21 is far away from the troubles of the planets. He has been asleep for the past 10 years on a small mining colony. And once he wakes up only to find everyone dead and the mines abandoned, the journey begins.
No, not an A.I. Artificial Intelligence type of journey, though both works of fiction feature a child android with built or inherited or learned complex emotions and a strong connection to a family or family member. Tim-21 knows what he is and he knows deep in his core what his purpose was. That however does not stop him from addressing his human “owner” as brother – he cares deeply for Andy, the child he was assigned to and Andy’s mother, who both took him in as a son and a brother. So he feels responsible for them, afraid that they’ve been hurt. Understanding Andy has survived the disaster in the colony he sets of to find him. Find his brother. It is that pure and simple for Tim-21.
What I love about this series is that the art style is fucking amazing – the watercolor layer makes everything pop out and is really gorgeous to look at; the character models and world building, these huge, desolate landscapes and vast patches of space are simply beautiful – Dustin Nguyen has done and is doing an outstanding job of bringing to life visually pleasing faces and places in a kind of old school way, it often just reminds me of older SF comics.
What I also love about Descender is that it introduces in a comfortable pace new and interesting characters that are complex each in their own way. Tim-21 has his own journey and it stretches beyond that of his want to find Andy and protect his pet-bot Bandit; The worker bot, Driller may seem as just an addition to the team for his “Driller is a Real Killer” puns, but he has a much larger and important role and his own heartfelt story line which develops over time without feeling tedious or a burden to the whole of the narrative.
Captain Telsa ( ok, there was a pun with calling her Tesla by accident, I’ll let that one slide cause it’s inevitable) strong-headed and rule-obeying as she seems, takes a complete turn from fighting robots to helping one. She becomes invested in this bonkers world and war and the secrets of the Descender and what the Harvesters mean.
Andy, all grown-up and a Scrapper himself is torn between the man he thinks he is and the boy he used to be.
And there is this group of people who support the robots and protect their rights by augmenting themselves with robotic parts, becoming cyborgs essentially. It’s a fascinating universe that Jeff Lemire wrote and loves and lives in, or has lived in since his childhood unbeknownst to him even. So you can easily understand and read the passion he’s put into Descender and how much more the story has to offer and evolve. With just 28 issues published there is so much room to expand the universe and understand more behind its nine planets and their purpose and secrets.
The story has a very ancient and mysterious war in its core that opens up to the reader little by little as the narrative progresses and it has very precise twists and turns and pre-history that grows the lore that the first issue barely scratches the surface of.
All of the characters are likable, even the flawed one because they have such strong voices and emotions.
I highly recommend Descender. It is as I said a refreshing and of the times SF story inhabited by wonderful characters via a strong storytelling and a mystery still unfolding plus the cherry on top – its gorgeous to look at art.
*Images used here belong to their sole creator. All images taken from Vol. 1: Tin Stars