Hannah’s Novel Notions: A Review of Descender Vol 1 by Jeff Lemire


Do you ever read a comic book and think: “Gah. I wish I knew how to draw”?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you actually know how to draw. I, however, can’t draw…I can’t even color within the lines in a coloring book. So when I see pretty art (usually in the form of comic books), I always have to take a second to stare at it and drool.

The artwork in Descender: Tin Star is one of the comic books that makes me wish I knew how to draw something beyond lopsided stick figures. Done in watercolor paint by Dustin Nguyen, it’s beautiful to look at.

Of course, Descender does have more than just brilliant artwork going for it. It’s written by Jeff Lemire, an author I’d never read before but had been told was completely brilliant. Upon reading Descender, I have to say that I agree.

This is a beautiful, unique comic book, both story-wise and art-wise.

Everybody owns robots. They’re used to their fullest extent: Scientists use them as companions to bounce ideas off of, children use them as playmates. They are brilliant inventions perfected over many years, integrated into society so that they have become normal fixtures.

Then The Harvesters arrive. Massive robots, they come out of nowhere and lay waste to planets and space stations.

But that’s all it takes. Hunted down and destroyed, androids are purged from society.

Tim-21, a young robot designed to be a child companion, knows none of this. He wakes up after a prolonged sleep to find his human family gone and a group of bounty hunters out to get him. On the run, he is rescued by his creator: Dr. Quon, and a woman who seems to think that the Tim-21 androids are the key to the existence (and thus destruction) of The Harvesters. They will grant him protection if he’ll cooperate with their study of him.

But what will they do with him once they’ve gotten the information they need?

Tim is the last of the line of Tim-21 robots, and it seems that everyone is after him for one reason or another. Even with Driller the Killer (a larger driller android without much brain, but a lot of loyalty) an Bandit (a small robotic dog) at his side, it’s going to take a lot to escape from being melted down or taken apart for research.

The artwork, man. The artwork. I’ve encountered watercolored comic books a few times previously, and thought it was okay. But Dustin Nguyen watercolor is beyond okay. It’s brilliant.

The primary colors are largely black, white, or muted. But then the pages are splashed with crimson, orange, or other beautiful, vivid colors. Often, the pencil sketches are visible through the coloring, lending it a slightly unpolished look that provided an interesting pairing with the sleek, futuristic, yet sometimes barbaric world. Just look at it:

The art, along with Jeff Lemire’s great story telling, worked to build a massive, well developed universe. Often, with the universe as vast as the one featured in Descender, the characters and their personalities can get lost. Not so with this story.

Tim is a sweet little character, a robot programmed to work well with children. His main wishes in life is to become part of the family and dream when he falls asleep (one of the main differences between humans and robots in this world). He has the type of innocence that makes you think: “That one. Keep that one safe.”

Which, apparently, is exactly what the two other androids in this book seem to have thought. Driller the Killer is a large, intellectually slow, man-hating robot who immediately latches onto Tim and decides to act as his bodyguard. His  jaded view of humans is interesting, especially when placed next to Tim’s openness to everybody. Bandit, the small robotic dog, fills the place of the R2D2/BB8 character that seems to be necessary for all good sci-fi novels: He doesn’t talk, but tags along to help to his companions while making cute beeping noises.

And then there are the humans: the washed-up creator of the Tim-21 robots who is living out a pathetic existence after having all of his creations destroyed. And the intense young woman bent on finding the link between Tim and The Harvesters. Both of these characters were slightly less developed, but there are 2 more volumes in this series, so I’m sure their stories will be delved into more in the future.

Bounty hunters searching for robots.

A large part of this volume dealt with the ramifications of ripping out what has become a fixture of the human race: robots. It showed how fear can drive people to extremes, dissolve trust, and brings down entire societies. Maybe our world doesn’t have robots, but this message is still one that is largely relevant today. Seeing these events through Tim’s eyes made the story even more touching, as it can be eye-opening to see such a harmless, kind character starkly contrasted against a large, frightened, and frightening world.

Lemire did a brilliant job of weaving characters, world building, and thought-provoking themes into a single comic book. On its own, the story would’ve been great. But paired with Nguyen’s beautiful art? This story falls smack dab into Zone Brilliant.

Descender Vol 1: Tin Star is definitely a story worth reading, especially if you are a fan of sci-fi, futuristic, or are looking for a good comic book outside of the superhero realm and with a different artistic approach. I’m excited to read the next volumes in the series, and I know this is the first of many Jeff Lemire stories that I will explore.

Have you read Descender? Please leave your thoughts below! And don’t forget to tell me about any other Jeff Lemire stories that you recommend!