A Gun Pointed at the Head of the Universe in Descender #30
The hit sci-fi series by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen is coming up on its end. While it’s sad to see such a great series come to an end, Descender still has a lot to say before it goes. With Descender #30, Lemire and Nguyen continue to raise the stakes in what is shaping up to be an all-out war on three fronts. With the UGC’s reveal of a man-made Harvester in the previous issue, they briefly gained the upper hand. But without a functional A.I., all factions have regrouped to converge on the superweapon. Whoever controls the Harvester controls the fate of the galaxy.
Lemire has an incredible amount of control in both the pacing of the narrative and the intimate character moments. Telsa’s inner uncertainty is never stunted for the plot to move forward. The plot is never derailed to focus on the inner workings of Telsa. In fact, it is her shaken faith in herself that leads to decisions that actually drive the narrative forward. This character-driven pacing isn’t just true of Telsa (although these past few issues have focused on her more than anyone else). Dr. Quon’s growing social conscience acts as an unexpected foil to Telsa’s soldier-esque rigidity. Tim-21’s innocence contrasts with General Nagoki’s cold pragmatism. It’s the clash of these personalities that informs the narrative direction of the issue.
My one complaint with the writing is the lack of agency Tim-21 has had the past couple of arcs. In a world that has occupied itself with equal rights politics—singling out fringe groups and robots as examples that perpetuate a systemic cycle of oppression and bigotry—the protagonist has very little say in the direction his journey is taking him.
Telsa, his caretaker-turned-jailer, has stopped viewing Tim-21 as an actualized being with self-determination. Instead, she treats him like a tool to be used. While this view is in line with her father, for Telsa it feels too sudden. Too unearned. The switch from conflicted morality to blind loyalty just doesn’t ring true for me. My hope is that Telsa’s choices will be further explored in the coming issues.
Even then, these things aren’t nearly as big of issues as I’m making them out to be. I’m just being nitpicky.
Dustin Nguyen’s work on Descender #30 continues to be the very best of his career. The mixing of deep blues and purples and pinks for the shots of deep space are still stunning thirty issues in. The contrast in the clean whites of the high-tech UGC ships with the rugged, patchwork look of The Hardwire is itself a Master Class of visual storytelling. Before Descender, I never thought of watercolor being a smart stylistic choice for comics. Nguyen has made me glad I was so wrong.
If you ever have some free time, I suggest watching some of his art streams and videos on his Instagram. Watching him freehand robots is one of the most relaxing things you can see.
Yeah, Descender has been one of my favorite comics since I picked up issue #1 on a whim. Throughout its entire run, it has continued to blend literary and genre fiction into something more. From its sci-fi action sequences to its quiet character moments about identity and autonomy, Descender is full of welcome surprises. If you’ve liked it up until now, Descender #30 will delight you and leave you wanting more. Luckily, we only have to wait thirty days until we get it.
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