Created by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, welcome to Descender and its The United Galactic Council, made up of nine planets that host a variety of peoples of different species. They’ve got technology, underlying racial tensions, space travel, AIs and all that other cool SF jazz. But as issue one of Descender reveals: cool stuff does not last forever.
There be spoilers here.
If there’s one thing I really enjoyed about this first issue, it’s the illustrations of Dustin Nguyen. Rather than going for the usual combos of strong lines and even stronger colours, Nguyen has created a comic that is illustrated with a whole watercolours appearance. I don’t know if he actually used watercolour palettes or watercolour pens, but the slightly washed out look that you’re greeted with in this first issue is not the kind of aesthetic you tend to associate with science fiction comics, or even science fiction in any medium.
But what is interesting about this visual aesthetic is that it makes the comic’s universe seem a bit warmer, a bit closer, not as alien as it might otherwise be, seeing as how it’s quite far on the sci-fi scale. Things aren’t too washed out, by the way, Nguyen has got some great character designs going on so that it’s possible to easily identify different characters.
Perhaps what doesn’t do Descender any favours is its proximity to Mass Effect, both in time, aesthetically and thematically. While the character of Tim-21 has a point of view that the Mass Effect series of videogames never managed to fully convey, other aspects of the comic are so similar that my first thought when I saw page one was that I was looking at the Citadel from ME. And it doesn’t end in looks. The antagonists in Descender are revealed to be giant, space faring, AI controlled robots called Harvesters, which sounds far too close to ME’s Reapers for its own good.
I’m not sure if series writer Jeff Lemire and his co-creator Nguyen are aware of the similarities or not. However, they are at least differentiating on the origin of the Harvesters, which seems to be vastly different from origins of the Reapers in the ME franchise. Of course other aspects of the comic are similar to ME, but they’re similar in ways that loads of SF is, like having huge intergalactic councils.
This issue did leave me wondering where it would take one particular character, Dr. Quon, because he’s placed in a pretty awkward situation by the end of it, one that does draw a line between this comic and any similarities between it and Mass Effect. And I hope that future issues build upon this.
If you don’t know much about Mass Effect, than Descender will seem pretty fresh in terms of the core pillars of its story and setting. For those of us who were big into ME, then it might be hard to separate things. I really do love the art style that Nguyen has taken the comic in and I think it is one of the comic’s highlights so far, because it just brings a cosiness to this grand SF story that you just don’t normally find in science fiction.
Descender: Book I: Tin Stars is out now and published by Image Comics. Our reviewer bought their own copy of the comic.