Unlike its first issue, which was largely populated by catastrophic world-splosions and all-powerful robot gods, in Descender #2, Lemire and Nguyen take a much more intimate look at their universe-in-disarray. Its tighter shot this time specifically focuses on boy-bot Tim-21’s harrowing escape from a pack of greedy bounty hunters and their bloodthirsty alien murder-dog. But what makes this issue so resonant is the way Tim’s getaway is interlaced with the story of his artificial birth and arrival, years prior, as a human companion to a young, loving family on a mining outpost at the edge of the galaxy. The effect Lemire and Nguyen achieve in this quickly oscillating, almost strobe-like back-and-forth is heady to say the least, with a disparity of tenor that grounds the two stories within each other. In a way, one becomes the cliff; the other, the fall. And we are all of us sent tumbling into the dark. Especially Tim.
Lemire being Lemire, issue two, from its immediate foreshadowing, right to its violent end, is a hot-damn clinic in Feels, leaving you agape with sucking chest wounds, both literal and metaphorical. And as usual, he does a bang-up job of conveying a palpable gamut of the emotions you might expect, from terror to love to grief, without feeling maudlin - something this story could easily become in less capable hands.
Given how blatantly obvious a correlation it is to make from even the most cursory look at Descender, this continues to feel very much like Kubrick/Spielberg’s A.I., but I don’t say that as a negative. See, A.I. was a flick that resonated with me more than most - particularly in its heart-rending treatment of a family divided - and the narrative here cuts with an all too similar depth. The only one, mostly marginal problem I have is with the character of Andrew, Tim’s “real boy” brother. His cheerful, childish pleasantries sound “off” somehow, or forced, and their relationship almost too idealized; tough that could be leading to a swerve later. Either way, it’s a small gripe in Descender’s grand scheme.
At the same time, I’ve heard a few folks - both Bastard and otherwise - either naysaying or lightly bashing the art in this series. I, however, am firmly of the mind that Nguyen’s style is as perfect in Descender #2 as it was in its first foray, and altogether an ideal fit for the book. It would be easy to call it “painterly” or something similar, but its eschewal of any rigidity of line work is almost more than that, offering a tumultuous wash of watercolors that makes everything look like a wet memory, stained in this expertly haunting sense of reflective lighting.
What is nice, too, is the tone he establishes in the artistic variations of the simultaneous stories being told. The dreamlike sepia brush used to depict Tim’s rapidly depleting memory is soft and ethereal, drifting almost into itself and harshened only by the incessant punctuation of a red warning text; like a horrible snooze alarm. The real world of his escape is more tarnished in a heavier wither and texture, making the jump between them that much more pronounced.
All wrapped up with a fun, if slightly half-baked page with short descriptions of the galaxy’s planets and their people, Descender #2 proves to be a great, more narratively condensed fallout to the first issue’s literally earth-shattering introduction. Some readers may have a problem with it not touching on many bigger-picture points - and don’t get me wrong, I too am excited to see more about the anti-robot post-apocalypse of worlds - but I thought this issue was a wicked, more introspective look at its main player in Tim. I continue to be high on this series as a familiar yet fresh take on science fiction, and will be sticking around to see just how Descender ascends.