‘Descender’ started great, and now twenty-eight issues later, it’s still not done improving.
Most issues of Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s space-faring adventure Descender feel like big events, with twists and reveals and action that keeps you guessing and on the edge of your seat. But this week’s issue #28 just might be the most revelatory issue yet.
Continuing the two-part story arc that began last month, Lemire and Nguyen have taken readers four thousand years into the past to reveal the first time the giant robots known as Harvesters arrived, and the tale of two scientists who went with them to meet their mysterious creators. To reveal the specifics of the plot would be to blow reveals and setups that have been over three years in the making, so I will simply tell you that this issue is jam-packed with answers that longtime Descender readers have been waiting for, not the least of which is “Why is this book called Descender?” But don’t worry, I won’t tell you the answer to that question in this review either.
So what can I tell you? This is possibly the most beautiful issue that Nguyen has illustrated yet. While it doesn’t have crazy widescreen space shots or two-page spreads or some previous issues, it does have one of the most distinct and beautiful color palettes of the series. The Harvester’s creators and their homeworld and rendered in an ethereal pink and blue that is shown in stark contrast to the green and orange of the plants the two scientists grow in their ship to feed themselves. As the story progresses, those colors shift and become muted in places, as if they were slowly echoing and fading through the issue, which is particularly effective, given the story arc’s focus on a cycle of mistakes being repeated throughout multiple generations.
The watercolor artwork is truly a beautiful sight to behold, and stands out among a sea of digitally rendered comic books on the stands. Nguyen lets the color lead the art and only puts an inked line down only when absolutely necessary, and the effect heightens the powerful emotions that the issue conveys. We only get a look at the modern day for a couple of pages, but the gravity of the story they’ve been told is clearly felt in Telsa and Tim-21, who are more tightly penciled than the rest of the issue, making them feel more solid than the “memory” that inhabits the rest of the pages.
This is undoubtedly one of–if not the–most important issues of Descender yet, not just in terms of plot, but also artistry. While it’s probably not a great place to jump into the story, it is a prime example of what makes it so uniquely beautiful. While most sci-fi stories strive for a cold and bleak aesthetic, Descender is an explosion of color, imagination and adventure that still has a lot to say about how we treat each other and the universe around us.
This issue expands the scope and deepens the mythology of an already sprawling and impressive world, and does it while being one of the most beautiful comics on the shelves. Descender started great, and now twenty-eight issues later, it’s still not done improving.