Review: Descender #3

Do androids dream of electric peeps? The answer, according to Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen’s Descender #3, is a strong and definite ... maybe? Perhaps because of that tantalizing ambiguity, combined with an enticing story and a downright gorgeous painterly style, the singularity of which I’m hard pressed in finding an adequate comparison to, I’ve fallen even harder for this crazy-intriguing Image series. The story of Descender #3 flits between boy-bot Tim-21’s fevered dreams as he slips further free of this mortal coil, and the misadventure that befalls the team of humans and robots tasked with finding him (in order to unravel the mystery of the universe’s sudden exposure to gigantic robot murder gods).

The developing thematic crux of this story seems to be an existential one; do robots have souls? And, perhaps more importantly, given our proclivity for violently lashing out against many for the sins of the few, do humans? Many readers might look on this issue and see its action as a sort of holding pattern, left to languish after the explosive events in its first. But Lemire and Nguyen are playing the long game here, and I for one appreciate how they are rolling out a larger universal mystery by focusing on a very select group of players.

Descender-#3Saying that, and as much as I enjoyed the way Lemire is teasing out his story’s secrets, and love designer Steve Wands’ overall direction of lettering and style, I would have been completely okay with Descender #3 being a semi-silent issue. I know that’s a weird thing to write, but much of it is so well-composed artistically, that I think it could have stood out on its visual merit alone, while the textual elements serve mostly as (still delicious) garnish.

Each page of this series thus far has been nothing less than a canvas for Dustin Nguyen to wash with unbridled color, set against often barely-there line work. Everything seems covered in a shimmer of harsh light and shrouded beneath a film of glass. It’s frankly breathtaking, the expressiveness Nguyen is able to achieve in even his most aseptic frames.

In fact, it’s his storytelling through color that is possibly his most incredible feat this issue, as he jumps between the all-consuming void of black on the mining planet’s surface, the equally oppressive white sterility inside Telsa’s ship and the interestingly visceral, ironically meat-hued veiny pulp within the undulating heave and swell of the robot afterlife.

As slow or redundant as it might appear to some readers, I could look at this book all damn day, and have indeed spent a long time luxuriating over its pages. So even if you’re not reading Descender for its compelling sci-fi high concept, which may call into question just whose image and likeness the life in this universe was created to emulate, the art is more than worth the price of admission, alone.

Descender #3, like the issues that precede it, come with very high marks from me, indeed, and as with any great meal, I have no problem in slowly, meticulously devouring its every course.

Score: 4/5

Descender #3 Writer: Jeff Lemire Artist: Dustin Nguyen Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 5/6/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital