Space opera is a sub-genre that has gotten a bit of a revival in the past year. While it has never truly died away, space opera has not maintained as much relevance in the past few decades as it once did. Recently it has seen a resurgence with the rebooted Star Trek films, the release of Guardians Of The Galaxy back in the summer, and the awaited return of Star Wars. It has always been a sub-genre more concerned with the plot and fantasy elements that make up a science fiction story and less about the actual science involved in it. Comics have always been a fantastic outlet for these kinds of stories, and Descender has the makings to be one to remember.
In a distant star system, the Core Planets, a collection of nine planets that make up the United Galactic Council, are attacked by a race of enormous, sentient machines. Dr. Jin Quon, an expert in robotics, is present on the planet Nyrata during the initial attack. Ten years later, a young boy named Tim wakes up on Dirishu-6, a mining colony on a distant moon. Tim discovers that he has been asleep for ten years and everyone on the mining colony is dead. Tim, is actually an android known as TIM-21, and he has been reactivated to discover that the world he once knew has been drastically altered by the attack of what many are referring to as “The Harvesters.”
Back on Nyrata, Dr. Quon, once a vastly wealthy and respected man, is now living the life of a deadbeat when he is recruited by a group known as The Network to help them cracked a codex that he has theorized will allow those who were attacked to understand The Harvesters. They quickly set off for Dirishu-6 where it seems a small android with a similar codex to The Harvesters’ has just reconnected with the UGC servers. Tim may be in more trouble than he knows, though. In a galaxy that now hates and fears machines, it seems a lot more people with less than friendly intentions know where he is.
Jeff Lemire is in no amateur when it comes to writing science fiction. Proof can be found in his last sci-fi series Trillium, published by DC’s Vertigo imprint, and the Eisner Award he was nominated for last year. Descender keeps in Lemire’s star-faring concept but on a much more grandiose scale. The open setting and story elements feel very familiar in the tropes they play on from the space opera setting. There is usually a looming threat toward humanity, or whatever race may be the central grouping of people, and a race to either stop it or defeat it. Lemire, however, takes a left turn at this trope and offers a story in which the space battles, warfare, and galactic heroics are all in the past, preferring instead to focus on a much more personal and stripped down story.
TIM-21 is an innocent that has been reborn into a world that hates him for something he was never a part of and does not understand. Not only does he play a central role as a protagonist and the reader’s avatar in which to learn and understand the world of the story, but he also plays the role of the ultimate MacGuffin that might just be the key to saving the universe. Tough role for a little android. Lemire’s characters are not overly characterized in the first issue, but their roles are defined enough to build a rough idea of the story ahead.
Most know Dustin Nguyen’s art from various Batman-related comics out of DC including Detective Comics and Batman: Streets of Gotham. Nguyen has been known in the past to incorporate watercolor into his work, and it works to great effect in Descender. The rough texture to the paper as well as the unkempt shading of the colors gives more chaotic and organic look to a story that would normally remain more crisp and sterile in the hands of other artists. While watercolor has been gaining more and more popularity in comics art recently, it is not something commonly seen being used in science fiction. It gives a rather alien look to the story, which marries it to the very alien world it represents.
It’s a tall order to introduce an entire world of planets, characters, antagonists, and hint a larger picture without sacrificing the actual story of the issue. Lemire, however balances it like a master and is able to give just enough to make future issues that much more enticing. While the story offers concepts that are not foreign to fans of sci-fi, it is an engaging and original story set in a sub-genre that has not seen a lot of love outside of major franchises. Descender is a not only beautiful to look at, and a treat for sci-fi fans, but it’s also a comic that has the potentially to be a greatly poignant and memorable story. I would not be surprised to see it highlighted as a top title for 2015.
Descender #1 is on sale now, and be sure to check out our interview with Jeff Lemire about the book and his other titles coming out this year right here.