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.