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Descender: “Machine Moon” (Image Comics, 2015; #7-11)

A decade after giant, mysterious robots appeared, attacked planets across the galaxy, and then disappeared again, robots are illegal. When a childlike companion robot called Tim-21 reawakens on a deserted mining moon, he finds himself in the middle of scientists, bounty hunters, soldiers, and other robots. And they all seem to have their own agendas, while all he wants is to find the human who was his brother.

Jeff Lemire has a tendency to write comics with some pretty complicated narratives. (And those comics are usually top notch!) But Descender keeps things simpler. Yes, it has its mysteries, but it’s more an exercise in world-building and character work with Dustin Nguyen. In a way, it’s a more nuanced story without layers of reality-bending, time-travel, or complicated narrative structures. Instead, it trades in subtle melancholy. Or foreboding and mistrust. Or even just feeling badly for Tim-21, who seems pretty harmless but appears to everyone as a tool or a threat. It’s full of niggling, complicated emotions. And by being as much, it’s about humanity.

It is fitting that a book about subtle, fleeting feelings exists in delicate watercolors. Nguyen’s art is about as far from the typical sci-fi comic look as possible. There are no hard edges and shiny surfaces. Instead, he fills representational figure work with painted colors that sometimes bleed outside the lines. He gives Descender’s worlds a fragility in line with both their galaxy’s tumult and the characters’ emotional states. And his free use of open, black or white spaces creates a sense of claustrophobic aloneness. As is usually the case with Nguyen’s work, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Descender doesn’t look like a typical sci-fi book. In some ways, it reads like one; but Lemire and Nguyen have chosen to focus more on character and emotion than space opera action. Even its visual language defies the genre. It boils down to embracing or running away from different kinds of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of the perceived threat. Fear of being alone, or fear of needing others. It’s small, character-focused story against a sci-fi backdrop; if that kind of storytelling interests you, then Descender gets my recommendation.

Collected in

  • Descender, Vol. 2: Machine Moon (#7-11)


Writer: Jeff Lemire | Artist: Dustin Nguyen | Letterer/Designer: Steve Wands

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