Comic Review: Descender, by Jeff Lemire

Volume 1: Tin Stars

In a world where our grasp of space and robotics-based technology is rapidly accelerating, where a robot has been granted citizenry and an international gateway is planned for the moon, stories that blur the line between what we know is human and what we perceive as such become more and more relevant. Tales that bring to the forefront questions about humanity, what defines it, what defines us. When we fail to treat other beings with the respect and dignity we ourselves feel we deserve, do we relinquish some of our own morality? If we create something with the ability to empathize, to sympathize, are we wrong to not recognize those emotions as valid?

I adored this first volume of Descender; it’s one of those books that you want everyone to read while also never allowing your own copy out of your possession. Emotional, intelligent, well written, and beautifully brought to life, it’s not hard to fall in love….

Our opening pages show us an unknown doctor roused from his slumber to find an enormous robotic construct has appeared on the planet Niyrata. Taller than any mountain, and apparently dormant- the world is in a panic as it’s governments try to decide a course of action. There are more, one for each major planet, one for each cluster of civilization. They stand sentinel, any attempts at communication met with silence, moments after the doctor wakes, however, an energy spike is registered…

And we find ourselves ten years in the future, on the moon of Dirishu-6, with Tim-21, a “companion-bot” developed by the aforementioned doctor. The colony is devoid of life, and our hero Tim sets out to discover what happened to his home, and his “family.”

But the universe has changed since last he went to sleep, and now Tim is forced to navigate a world turned hostile, where human and robots are at war. With his robot-dog Bandit, and Driller “the Killer” at his side, he sets out to discover what happened since his mother put him to bed on a fateful night so many years ago.

I don’t want to talk too much about the characters, because to do so would give away major reveals and interesting development, but I will say they are wonderfully realized and very human, even the non-humans. Tim-21 steals your heart (though he would willingly return it with a smile and a hug), and keeps you devoted to his story throughout. I am desperate to see this little boy happy, regardless of his components. Rarely do I find a protagonist I love within the first page of a narrative, let alone a comic, but I love Tim-21, and I want to hurt everyone who keeps trying to hurt him. Dustin Nguyen brought this world to life with his art, single-handedly developing the paneling, sketches and water coloring issue to issue, and the nuances of emotion he gives us through Tim is fantastic.

Tim-21’s willingness to trust and believe pulls you through the tale, even as he is surrounded by no one (save Driller and Bandit) that he should trust and believe. The world is hostile to his kind, humans and robots have lived in fear of one another for ten years, where does a Companion programmed to believe humans fit? How does he survive? When he wakes his only wish is find out what happened to his human “brother” Andy- but in a universe at war with itself, where does a robot-boy in search of family fit in? There are greater forces at work here, and all of them are interested in Tim, will he find Andy, will he find a safe place to call home? I don’t know, but I sure as hell am excited to find out.

Final Conclusion: If you liked stories like A.I. and I, Robot then you will most likely enjoy this. Also, if you enjoy epic space narratives and nuanced characters with a protagonist that skips happily along at your side, then read this. This first issue asked a lot of big questions, and I’m looking forward to getting to the bottom of them all.


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