Descender: An enthralling space odyssey with lots of heart and adventure

Gautham Shenoy September 1, 2018 6 min

For a reader, there’s no greater pleasure than to be admitted into a whole new immersive universe, layered with emotion, as you descend into its rich details with each succeeding page, following the exploits of etched characters you root for, as their stories unravel and the epic unfurls in all its glory. Descender is one such tale, in comic form.

Covers of the first three volumes of Descender: Tin Stars, Machine Moon, Singularities. (From Image Comics)

In the far future, the United Galactic Council – made up of a group of nine core planets – is a thriving society where people, machines and robots live in harmony. Until one day, the galaxy is suddenly attacked by planet-sized robots – the unknown Harvesters, as they are dubbed – which wreak havoc across all the many worlds, killing billions and disappearing just as mysteriously as they’d expectedly appeared. This event becomes a flashpoint from which society – human or otherwise – never recovers from. Humans begin the mass culling of all mechanical forms of being, as retribution for the acts of the Harvesters. Robots are killed and sentient AIs massacred by their millions until ten years later there are not many that left, and those that have survived do so as fugitives.

It is into this world, on a desolate mining colony, that a young boy, a companion bot called Tim-21 awakens after having ‘slept’ through a decade of upheaval. Before long, the Galactic Council finds out about his existence and – more importantly – that the code that runs him is the same that was found in the Harvesters, that both share the same ‘machine DNA’. And with due alacrity sends a team comprising a down-on-his-luck scientist who once created the Tim series of robots and a soldier with her bodyguard to bring him back to the hub planet. Needless to say, they are not the only ones who are soon after Tim-21, the last of his kind.

Meanwhile, the innocent young Tim-21 – with only his robot dog, Bandit and Driller, a brooding mining droid for company – only has memories of his adoptive human parents and their son, and all he wants to do is find his human ‘brother’ and be his companion again. But it is not long before Tim-21 who holds the key to the future, is swept up in an epic adventure with a motley group of companions, as he slowly comes to grips with a changed world, and learning about people while being hunted from planet to planet across the galaxy, by everyone from the United Galactic Council, bounty hunters various factions of humans and aliens, each of who are after him to serve their own ends, not all of them noble.

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Left: Two panels from Descender. Right: Cover of Descender issue #5 depicting Tim-21 and his group.

Written by Jeff Lemire (of Sweet Tooth fame), with art by Dustin Nguyen and lettered by Steve Wands, Descender is a take that thoroughly absorbs you – not least because you follow its ups and downs, its zigs and zags – with a kind of wide-eyed wonder as you watch events unfold primarily through the eyes of Tim-21, but also through the perspective of an ensemble cast of characters that includes humans and aliens in all forms and shapes. Even the mechanical beings are truly fleshed out.

Therein lies one of the biggest strengths of Descender. The key elements – such as man vs machine, an innocent of the run – may seem familiar, but Lemire’s writing takes them in unexpected directions, deftly manoeuvring from the galactic scale to more personal storytelling, with great wold building, weaving together all the various strands without getting bogged down by clunky exposition at any time. The other big strength of Descender is its artwork, by the one-man art team of Dustin Nguyen, who for this series did everything from the sketches to the inking and colouring, and all in a style that is unconventional, to say the least for this genre of comics – watercolours. Intricate and warm, without the sterile lines & borders or the shiny sleek chrome that usually typifies this genre, Nguyen’s art elevates Lemire’s script with its intimate character work.

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Left: Jeff Lemire. Right: Dustin Nguyen. (Photos ©Luigi Novi/Wikimedia Commons)

At its heart, Descender is less a story about machines and technology and more about looking at and learning the world through the eyes of innocence. Of understanding what it means to be human and the inhumanity of it all. At what point does a machine become a ‘being’? It’s a tale of love, loss, and longing on the inside, but an action-filled space adventure on the outside with aliens, robots, rebels, space battles and more. Needless to say, there is nary a dull page in Descender.

Covers of the final three volumes of Descender: Orbital Mechanics, Rise Of The Robots, The Machine War. (From Image Comics)

Surely, a comic book this good couldn’t have escaped the eyes of Hollywood? No, it hasn’t, in case you were wondering. But unlike most other comics – and in a testament to its potential to be a great story even cinematically – Descender was headed for the big screen even before a single issue was out. Because Sony picked up the movie right to Descender way back in January 2015 before Descender issue #1 was published in March of that year. Descender’s run as a comic series just ended in July of this year, with the final volume of the collected issues due in September which readers who’ve not dived into Descender yet ample to catch up on the comics. As has always been the position of this writer, ‘never judge a book by its movie’.

And to do our bit in enabling readers of New Worlds Weekly on FactorDaily descend into Descender, we’re giving away not one, but two copies of Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars (which collects issues 1–6 of the series). Yes! All you have to do is answer this simple question ‘Which 21st-century manga series was one of Jeff Lemire’s inspirations for Descender?’. Here’s a clue: The manga series in question was itself inspired by – and based on – a series from the 1950s/60s. To avoid answers being copied, send in your entries – via DM to @thebekku (on Twitter) or tgshenoy (on FB), or tgshenoy at gmail – before Saturday, September 8, 2018. All correct entries will be entered into a lucky draw and two lucky winners can expect to have Descender Vol 1 delivered to their doorstep shortly thereafter. All the best!

Until next weekend when I do hope to see you here again on FactorDaily, for another sojourn into sci-fi, Live Long and Prosper!


Updated at 03:11 pm on September 1, 2018  to change contest date from August 8 to September 8.