Zeb Larson reviews Descender #1…
One young robot’s struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet.
A rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey that pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling space opera from the creators of Trillium, Sweet Tooth, and Little Gotham.
Descender is off to a very good start, aided in part by the extra-long opening issue. Image’s promotional materials promise a space opera, which we certainly have all the ingredients of. Sprawling inter-galactic empire? Check. A protagonist who’s forced to ask questions about his own humanity? Check. Morally ambiguous politics and a decaying government? Check. Based on the payoff we’ve got here, Descender is going to be a hot new series.
In the distant future, an inter-species galactic confederation known as the United Galactic Council has banned all androids after an attack by a group of hyper-sophisticated giant robots known as the Harvesters. The Harvesters’ attack resulted in hundreds of millions of deaths and was focused on technology. The leading robotics expert, Dr. Jin Quon, has spent years in a semi-drunken haze, but he’s now been given a new job by officials in the UGC. A child’s android named Tim wakes up in a desolate colony, alerting all manner of hostile bounty hunters to his presence. Tim is forced to learn what his role in the universe is, and more importantly his still unknown connection to the Harvesters. Jin must find him before everybody else does.
Tim is sort of a classic high-concept science fiction protagonist. He appears and acts exactly like a child, yet watching him interact with a computer is a reminder that he’s not. Furthermore, Tim has the misfortune to be in a universe in which virtually nobody is going to take his humanity very seriously. On the contrary, some are going to view him as a dire threat. In looking at Tim, Lemire can raise interesting questions about humanity, what makes us human, and whether human values transcend biology.
In addition to the interesting existential questions of this book, it’s also got a strong background to work with. There are nine different planets in the UGC, some of which are inhabited by alien races and which have their own politics separate from human beings. Lemire was kind enough to include a small appendix for each of the planets with a little bit of the history. One of the planets, Gnish, is the most anti-robot of the nine. Another planet, Ostrakon, is wholly desolate of life except for the remains of an ancient civilization. Given the devastation the UGC is supposed to have gone through, we should be in store for some interesting politics.
Image is really building itself up as the go-to source of interesting new science fiction. Based on this newest series, it’s a well-deserved reputation. I’m looking forward to seeing what twists and turns Descender can offer us.