In Descender #8 we finally meet the series’ Han Solo character. There’s even a Chewie equivalent (a giant slug with six eyes but he’s still charming). One could cry foul and say that Jeff Lemire is borrowing from the Holy Trilogy a little too much, but a deeper reading shows that, as always, the Descender creative team is borrowing many of the tropes familiar to the Lucas/Spielberg generation and using them to tell an original story, not simply ripping off earlier ideas. The book has been, and continues to be, brilliant in the way that it gives us something new in the guise of something familiar. In that way, it’s truly wonderful genre work.
Andy, the afore-mentioned Han Solo stand-in, resembles the old Scoundrel really only in his black leather jacket, cool stance and penchant for wandering the galaxy with a strange alien sidekick. Beyond that superficial resemblance, he’s actually more like Kylo Ren, sulky and embittered, with a personal grudge that gets in the way of his better judgement. Andy, as we learned in the previous issue, was the original owner of TIM-21, the robot boy who carries the electronic DNA of the Harvester robots who wiped out most of humanity. When the Harvesters attacked the mining colony where Andy and his family lived, most of the population was wiped out, but Andy escaped, carrying an understandable grudge against all forms of robotic life. But his feelings about TIM, his beloved childhood companion, are mixed, and Lemire and the always-excellent Dustin Nguyen portray Andy’s internal conflict with their usual skill in characterization.
Andy’s back story is told in a wonderful series of splash pages, sepia-toned to the point of almost black and white, and these panels show us everything we need to know about the talents of both Lemire and Nguyen. The flashbacks are, naturally, told from Andy’s point of view, and something about the way the creators render the pages strike all the right emotional beats. Young Andy, like many intelligent young people, is bored by his life, realizes that there is a lot going on in the world that is completely beyond his control, and escapes by reading and developing his imagination. His mother is the only adult we really get to see, emphasizing that peculiar close bond that some young boys have with their moms. He’s resentful about having been brought to such a backwater mining colony, and cries and wails for his mother to get him a robot “TIM”, especially when he sees one advertised. “The kids here are stupid,” he responds when his mother points out that making a real friend would be cheaper. It’s a small point, but an important one, and in some ways reflects realistically the experience of a smart child being brought from an urban, middle-class environment to live in a rural community with rougher social rules. Of course, we know that Andy eventually does get TIM-21, and what’s interesting here is that Lemire and Nguyen carve a different path through that story than A.I., its most obvious influence. This is typical of the way that this creative team uses familiar texts to confound our expectations, and it’s wonderful. The heartbreaking finale, blending the flashbacks with the “present day” story features some of Nguyen’s best character work. The pacing of the tragedy, and the way that the narrative twists back on young Andy, rings absolutely true given that this story is being told from a child’s point of view.
In the “present day” storyline, Andy, now a lanky blonde sulky type, with his afore-mentioned sluglike sidekick “Blugger”, is a rogue bounty hunter, prowling the galaxy for any and all robots to deliver to scrappers. On the run from the UGC, the remains of the human government, Andy and Blugger wind up in a classic wacky sci-fi scenario featuring alien ghosts and visions of the past and future. It’s yet another homage to classic science fiction, amongst many, to be found in the pages of Descender. (An interesting reading of this book might, in fact, put together all of those influences and interpret the whole run as Jeff Lemire’s great love letter to the genre.)
What we don’t see in this issue is any of our major characters and main cast, including TIM-21 and Dr. Quon, who we left in a rather grim situation. And we still haven’t gotten much more information about the big secret of Descender, which is why the codex contained within TIM-21 led to the activation of the Harvesters. But somehow all of that doesn’t really matter. By spending time with Andy, Lemire gives us a nice, unhurried introduction to yet another major character that he will undoubtedly weave into the book’s growing mythic tapestry.