The latest issue of Descender is the third in a series of five issues termed “Singularities” by the comic’s creators, Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, but it’s easily the most creative and appealing thus far. Unlike the previous issues, which focused on Captain Telsa, or TIM-22, this issue is all about Bandit, the pet bot owned by Andy and later cared for by TIM-21. It’s a truly masterful display of comics storytelling that the non-verbal Bandit, essentially a robot dog/cat hybrid, as as much personality and character as any of the more anthropomorphic types that populate this rich science fiction universe.
In the remarkable Errol Morris documentary The Gate of Heaven, about pet cemeteries, the oft-repeated phrase is, “This animal was put on the earth to give and receive love.” Aside from the religious allusions, that pretty much describes the function of many pets, and certainly the function of Bandit the pet bot. Like many pets, Bandit demonstrates a loyalty bordering on worship for Andy, then TIM-21, and that loyalty is returned. Jeff Lemire does what many science fiction writers have done before: commit to a robot’s premise completely, by allowing them to take their jobs literally. Bandit waits beside TIM-21’s sleeping body literally for years (with some wonderful “dialogue” worthy of any droid to emerge from the mind of George Lucas) and is, of course, reunited with his robot boy when TIM awakens from hibernation.
One of the pleasures of this issue is simply the opportunity to spend some time with a non-verbal character, and thus allow Lemire and Nguyen to indulge in some good, old-fashioned visual storytelling. Probably the most enjoyable segment is when Bandit has to chase a mouse, prowling about the corridors of the abandoned mining colony. Bandit combines the most appealing aspects of cats and dogs, which makes sense for a droid designed to satisfy a wide range of clients seeking pets. He barks, he arfs, he growls and he also whimpers in a heartbreaking series of panels when he realizes that his companion isn’t going to wake up. All this is rendered with an emotional purity that’s tremendously appealing. This is one of Descender’s enduring strengths: its ability to retain a sincere core of human sentiment amidst the high-concept sci-fi epic surroundings. The resemblance to Star Wars is flattering for both series.
By the end of the issue, the ironic twist is that the very thing that links Bandit to his humans (or his robot boy) is what potentially will lead to the linking up of the disparate storylines in Descender and, when the singularities mini-series concludes, will no doubt blend into a coherent climax. Even in its quiet, tangential moments, Descender is worth the time of any serious fan of science fiction.