I recently went on a couple comics shopping sprees (shout out to Barnes & Noble for having a Buy 2 Get 1 free deal on Image comics a while back), so I’m going to take a post to talk about two of the volume 1’s I picked up over the last few months.
1) Descender, written by Jeff Lemire, art by Dustin Nguyen
When the nine planets known as the United Galactic Council were attacked and their organic populations decimated by giant robots called Harvesters, anti-robot sentiment swept over the planets and sparked the robot culls. Ten years later, the UGC is still struggling to rebuild and living in fear that the Harvesters might return. Meanwhile, on the derelict mining colony of Dirishu-6, the child companion bot Tim-21 reboots and sends out a communication signal, hoping for rescue. When a link is discovered between Tim-21’s base machine codex and that of the Harvesters’, the race is on as a UGC squad tries to rescue the bot before he is abducted by scrappers sent by the fanatical anti-robot leaders of the planet Gnish. Tim’s robot friends include his dog, Bandit, and a dimwitted, slightly murderous mining droid named Driller. They encounter “father of modern robotics” Dr. Jin Quon, UGC Captain Telsa, and her pilot, Tullis. (Those last two remind me powerfully of Captain Amelia and Mr. Arrow from Treasure Planet. Fun fact.) Also various thugs, politicians, and more!
Descender is beautifully designed science fiction, and this first volume sets up emotional and story beats that are sure to have a massive payoff. Even on a surface level, the volume is a well-paced mixture of world-building and action, with tension developing on multiple fronts. While the fight over Tim-21 is an immediate source of conflict, the threat of the Harvesters adds an overarching sense of pressure. Meanwhile, Lemire and Nguyen take us on a foray into the political stronghold of the UGC, which not only gives us a nice sample of alien cultures they might visit in the future, but provides insight into political and military dramas that might come into play. The additions of a hinted-at ancient mystery and a contemporary conspiracy that might be connected make this a dense, wonderfully vivid setting. Nguyen’s art is expressive and complex, and his painted style creates truly stunning settings. The art and story are both rich in contrast, and I look forward to reading Volume 2, which released recently.
2) The Unwritten, written by Mike Carey, art by Peter Gross
Switching modes from science fiction to fantasy, The Unwritten falls into a perennial favorite category of mine: stories about stories. This Vertigo series concluded last year, which means that if the next couple volumes match the quality of the first I’ll be having a spending spree. The story’s primary protagonist is one Tom(my) Taylor, son of Wilson Taylor, the vanished author of a wildly popular fantasy series about a boy wizard based on his son. Since Wilson’s disappearance, Tom’s connection to the character in the public eye has only strengthened, and as a young adult he makes a living through convention appearances and book events. Cue a Q&A gone horribly wrong when his identity is thrown into question, setting off a chain reaction that includes people believing he is a fictional character made flesh and a villainous cabal that meddles in historical manipulations painting a target on his head.
The action is fast and the drama fantastic, with a bit of dark humor sprinkled throughout. Exploring the tenuous separation of fiction and reality is a memorable subplot with a convention of horror writers laid low by “genre conventions” in a horrific sequence of events, and a few cryptic warnings about how learning the way stories work could be useful drives the point home. While Tom fills the role of primary perspective character, he also falls into the classic hero’s conundrum of being stuck reacting to situations and characters that are utter mysteries to him. Why are psychopaths trying to kill him and why did his father leave him a map in a locked study? Don’t ask Tom because he sure doesn’t know, and the answers reach far enough back in time to include authors such as Twain and Kipling. Long story short, I expect The Unwritten to be fun and mesmerizing to delve into further, with a metafictional bite sure to delight the devoted reader within me.