Hollywood just can't keep its grubby little hands off of comics' stuff. Last week it was announced that Sony Pictures snapped up the rights to Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen's Descender well before the book's March publication, a practice becoming more common. This type of announcement may cause consternation among some, but you have to take it on a case-by-case basis: If anything Mark Millar writes gets a deal before publication, please, be offended; in all other circumstances, reserve judgment until a "professional" receives an advance copy and dictates your opinion to you. (This is my new persona: hated.)

Descender, on its way from Image in March, is epic, intelligent, and full of heart, and it looks like Sony was right on the money for once.

(Scathing Sony critique/topical comedy portion concluded. Please proceed.)

Ten years ago, a race of giant super-machines murdered most of the known universe. Giant, robot-like beings called Harvesters suddenly appeared in the skies above each of the nine Core Planets of the Megacosm, the home worlds of The United Galactic Council and wiped out billions without warning, vanished just as unexpectedly arrived.

 

 

In the years following, what remained of the UGC lashed out at artificial intelligence. Before the Harvesters, robots appeared to be a part of everyday life; afterwards, anti-robot fanaticism spread through the galaxy, resulting in the Robot Culls, the rampant genocide of artificial intelligence. A decade after the attacks, world populations are twenty-five percent what they used to be; robots are outlawed, hunted and destroyed by Scrappers; and nobody is closer to understanding what the Harvesters were, where they came from, or why they attacked.

TIM-21, an artificial boy who has been asleep for the last ten years, might be the key.

With Sweet Tooth and Trillium, Jeff Lemire has proven that he has a unique gift for crafting sci-fi comics that engage the reader both intellectually and emotionally, a quality that even some great science fiction lacks. In Descender, that trend continues with a heartfelt and inquisitive debut that establishes giant themes with a childlike sense of adventure in fell swoops of Nguyen's vibrant watercolors. You can see why Sony and studios that didn't get hacked were apparently so competitive: it might make children cry.

The way Nguyen draws Tim, you're emotionally invested the moment his skin cracks apart and the shiny things emerge. Abandoned robot boy and his mechanical dog save a universe that hates them? Please. I just cried from typing that. But Descender is also thematically complex, already poking at your definitions of life in a post-A.I. world. Just what does it mean to be alive, to have an identity, to have rights? At what point does artificial life stop being a thing and become a being?

 

 

There's an epic quality to Descender from the get-go, establishing a vast scope and epic stakes in this, the first issue of what's planned as an ongoing series. Half of the issue is essentially a ten-year, galaxy-sized back story that's just there to introduce Tim, the people who will be chasing him, and the width and breadth of the universe they'll be exploring, and it feels like it's a big one.

Nguyen's dramatic sense of scale gives the story an immensity from the very beginning, when the first Harvester towers over the planet of Niyrata like a Kirby nightmare wrought in brushed iron; Tim and his robot dog Bandit seem dwarfed by their very surroundings, about to be swallowed up by the world, and that's just in the derelict mining colony they awake in. There's a whole galaxy out there, and almost all of it wants to kill them. It's safe to assume Lemire and Nguyen will be exploring the Megacosm for some time to come, and the pure potential of it is worth the price of admission.

I don't know about anybody else, but I feel a weird pressure (more than usual, anyway) whenever writing reviews of first issues. For some reason, I feel like it's not only on the creators to make a comic, it's on me to guess whether or not what follows is worth it, and if I get it wrong, I feel stupid. But I always feel stupid, and it's part of my evaluation process for series premieres regardless: How excited does it make me to read the rest of it?

 

 

Innocent robot boy and dog! Universe that hates them! Mass-extinction-god-events! What does artificial life really mean!? I'm so excited, you guys.

Nguyen and Lemire are really on to something with Descender, a story already touching and hopeful and massive by the conclusion of its debut. Look for it this March, and on some type of screen somewhere in the future, maybe, possibly, it might get dropped and then picked up by somebody else, etc. Don't worry about that right now: just read it on March 4th. If you can see through your tears.

It's not even that sad, it just feels like it could get sad, you know? Like when you just see a three-legged dog and start welling up? It's just sitting there, perfectly happy to be a dog, and you f*cking cry anyway? Those kind of tears.