Jeff Lemire writes beautiful things when he plays in the creator owned sandbox. This is due, in large part, to his faith in the use of “silence,” stacking panels on the page with few words to join them while the art is allowed to tell a story. Lemire’s Underwater Welder is a prime example of this and so is his new series, Descender.
It’s Lemire’s background and work as an artist that frees him in this way, but usually, he need only trust himself and his abilities as a visual storyteller since he illustrates his own work. But with this book, Lemire is taking a creative leap into Dustin Nguyen’s arms. While the partnership seems outwardly odd — a sometimes spare storyteller and the cold of dead space and future tech merging with Nguyen’s warm watercolor paintings — the execution is all that matters. So far, this partnership is working thanks in part to Nguyen’s technical experience as a designer when it comes to constructing a believable future-space.
From Image Comics, Descender tells the story of TIM-21, a boy-robot who may or may not be the spark that lights a fire of discovery about a ferocious attack on the universe. TIM-21 looks like a normal human child, but his big expressive eyes and innocent features faintly recall Disney’s Pinocchio, the ultimate real-boy wannabe.
Jin Quon and Telsa are the other two main characters to this point, but little is known about the latter and Jin Quon is a disgraced scientist who was once a robotics innovator during a period before the aforementioned attack and the revolt against robots. To say more would spoil this first issue, but it would also require me to peer into the future as Lemire is giving Descender to the masses in crumbs, not cookies. If Lemire were a less-established name, we might see a debut issue that was more tightly packed, but that would also harm the beauty of this book.
It’s interesting to go back and re-read Saga #1 after looking at Descender since they share a genre. In Saga #1, though, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples don’t aim to be spare as they shine a light on several prime characters and introduce the first corner of a large universe while explaining the bullet points of a deep rift in an effort to convey the jeopardy that the main characters have fallen into. It’s a near-perfect first issue, but Descender #1 is no slouch. One isn’t necessarily better or worse, just vastly different.
Descender #1 does have a few flaws, but they’re minor and relate to the design of the book and the layout. There’s just a ton of needless white space and two borders that are outright intrusive when looking at the marvel that is Nguyen’s splash page detailing the attack and the expository page that opens TIM-21’s eyes to the world that has unraveled while he has been asleep for ten years. And since I’m already talking about art, I may as well also mention the work that Nguyen does when introducing us to the mostly abandoned mining colony on the Moon of Dirishu 6, specifically the base, which has transformed into a creepy abandoned cavern and crypt over the years.
Overall, Descender #1 is a beautiful book and the start of an interesting and grand story from a gifted storyteller and an artist who is finally getting a chance to meet his potential. It’s going to likely take awhile to get wherever this is going, but it seems like it will be worth the wait.