Your personal opinion may differ (that’s how these things tend to go), but for my money, Jeff Lemire is the most important comic book writer of the past 10 years. There are certainly few writers as prolific as Lemire. I honestly don’t know how the man does it. Not only does he consistently put out great books, but it seems as though he has written for nearly everyone. Since 2009s Essex County, Lemire has written for Top Shelf, Vertigo, DC, Marvel, Image, Valiant, and later this year, he will be publishing a new graphic novel with Simon & Schuster. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, he draws most of his books too.
I could easily do a whole year’s worth of posts on Jeff Lemire, and I guarantee his name will pop up a few more times before the year is out, but for the uninitiated, Descender is a great place to start. First off, the book is ongoing (#15 comes out next month), so you can get in on the ground floor, so to speak. And second, it has its feet planted on the borders of what Lemire does best. It’s a showcase of both Lemire’s singular creativity (it’s a creator-owned title put out by Image) and his ability to collaborate (the book was created with, and is illustrated beautifully by Dustin Nguyen).
Let’s start with that collaboration. Having read many of the books which Jeff Lemire both writes and draws, I regard his voice and visual style as two sides of the same coin. His thick, almost sloppy lines give a visual texture to his worlds which is inextricable from the storytelling that holds them up. It can be jarring to read a Lemire book without his signature visuals. But Nguyen has an entirely different range and skillset. Within the first few pages of the book, he has to depict a shimmering city of the future, a world-sized world-destroying robot, a deserted mining colony, and the end of the world (sort of). The book moves at a rapid-fire pace, but Nguyen grounds it through his sensitive and meticulous depiction of the world. I did not intend my second Recommended Reading column to share this distinction with the first, but Descender, like Harrow County, is water-colored. It works to beautiful effect here. The range of light and dark, the softness of some faces, the hardened crags of others – the choice of watercolor brings a humanity to the far-off universe of Descender. It calls to mind the enigmatic covers of 50s and 60s sci-fi paperbacks. More importantly, it brings an essential humanity to its protagonist.
The book centers around Tim-21, the boy who is not a boy. In fact, he is a robot, and we learn, after the prologue, that he is one of the last of his kind. He has been asleep for ten years. In that time, giant robots appeared out of nowhere, reaped destruction, and then disappeared, sending the United Galactic Council into complete disarray. Tim-21 may be the key to defending the galaxy and that’s where Dr. Quon comes in. You see, he created the Tim series of child companions – a huge leap forward in robotics – and it turns out there may be some connection between the mysterious Harvesters (those world-sized, world-destroying robots) and the Tims.
I won’t go too much further on plot –one of the pleasures of the book is the amount of twists and turns the narrative takes – but the book is filled with wonderful, classically Lemire-ian characters. A dog-robot. A Hulk-like killer mining robot. An bulbous, wannabe surgeon, space-king. And whole bands of miscreants and ruffians. The book ponders what it means to be alive, to be human, and what we owe the things we create. Lemire and Nguyen also turn an eye toward the past, how we learn from it, or don’t, and explore the self-destructive limits of ambition and fear.
You could start with any of Jeff Lemire’s books, but let me humbly suggest that you dip your toe into Descender. Volume 1 and 2 are available in trade paperback now with Volume 3 arriving at the end of this year.