Descender #10:

Picking a Side

We’ve spent so much time getting to know the characters and their personal challenges over the past 10 issues of Descender that it’s good to be reminded in the new issue that the freaking galaxy is at stake. Captain Telsa becomes the one that has to break the news to the more defeated and passive Doctor Quon that there is a war going on between robots and humanoids, and the robots are winning.

Quon, for his part, has been so inert in the past few issues that as readers we can be somewhat forgiven for dismissing his character, but Quon actually sits at the centre of the character struggles in Descender. As Telsa puts it, he has to “pick a side”, and that goes for TIM-21, Andy and all the other characters who may have a reason to fight for either humanity or robotics. Quon’s loyalties, not to mention his sense of self-worth, have been thoroughly tested and now, sporting a robot left arm, he’s literally torn. Humanity isn’t going to have any use for him, he realizes, since by stealing some alien code and claiming he had wrote it himself, he set loose the harvesters and almost destroyed his own species. Either as an incompetent or a coward or both — Quon has few friends among the breathing. There’s an interesting hint (actually a number of them) in this latest issue that perhaps he’ll choose the robot side.

TIM-21 is also undergoing a time of temptation and testing, hanging out with TIM-22 and doing what all kids seems to do these days (play video games), but more importantly getting some questions answered about his nature and his place in society. He could easily be the most important robot in the galaxy, but what he wants most of all is to be reunited with his human, Andy. Even other robots, fully aware of the secret he carries in his source code, are confused by his obsession with this one human, but indulgent of him due to his potential importance.

Andy, ironically, is also looking for TIM, making alliances, and entering the always-uncomfortable grey moral area of not choosing a side. A determined anti-robot human, he nevertheless wants to get back to TIM so badly that he’s willing to make deals with renegade robots, putting himself and all of his allies in danger.

By the end of this issue, we’re reminded by the highest force in the galaxy (the UGC itself) of exactly what could happen, and what’s at stake. For all of these characters, it’s becoming more difficult to equivocate. That sort of moral complexity is what makes Descender’s 10th issue so fascinating.

Of course, Dustin Nguyen’s artwork brilliant illustrates the story and characters Jeff Lemire has created. A particularly effective piece of work is Nguyen’s depiction of the planet Sampson, the first off-world human colony, now an ancient ruin. Sketching in textured, deep backgrounds that hint at scale, he evokes the grandeur of science fiction cinema without trying to duplicate or imitate it. He also finds room for the small emotional beats that are at the heart of Descender, such as a scene in which TIM-21 reads an old book he shared with Andy.

It’s difficult to discuss anything more without spoiling, but Descender #10 definitely escalates and elevates the story and ends in a way that will give the remainder of the story arc a remarkable dramatic momentum.

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Independent scholar Ian Dawe has been writing for Sequart since November 2013. Before that, he had a mixed background, initially in science (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry), where he earned an MSc from Simon Fraser University and then an MA in Film from the University of Exeter in the UK. He spent a decade teaching at the college level, delivering courses in Genetics, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Biological Anthropology and Film History. His academic work includes peer-reviewed papers on the work of Alan Moore, Harvey Pekar for Studies in Comics and a dissertation on Terry Gilliam for the University of Exeter. He has presented papers at several major academic conferences including Slayage 2014, Magus: Transdisciplinary Approaches to the Work of Alan Moore in 2010 (in the wizard's hometown of Northampton), Comics Rock and the International Conference of the Humanities in 2012, and at the Southwest Popular Culture Association Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2014 and 2015. He has contributed to several books, including a chapter about the TV show Archer in "James Bond and Popular Culture" and two chapters on Breaking Bad for "Breaking Bad and Masculinity", both now available from McFarland. At Sequart, he has authored a chapter for New Life and New Civiliations: Exploring Star Trek Comics, A Long Time Ago and two more upcoming books on Star Wars comics. He has also contributed to books on Alan Moore and 1970s Horror Comics. He is currently planning a full-length book on Better Call Saul. Ian currently lives in Vancouver, BC.

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Also by Ian Dawe:

The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring the Blade Runner Universe


A More Civilized Age: Exploring the Star Wars Expanded Universe


A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Exploring Star Wars Comics


A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe


New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


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