Sometimes progress in a series is not always in a straight line. There are times when creators will forego the steady forward progression of the plot to focus on the characters in a story. Mind you, the idea is not to forego progress entirely. If this approach is done right then the reader is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the cast as a whole while also seeing the plot advance in a meaningful way by the end of the volume. Jason Aaron has done this really well twice now with the second and third volumes of “Scalped” and “Southern Bastards,” respectively. Now we have Jeff Lemire trying his hand at it with this volume of “Descender” and the results aren’t nearly as impressive.
The main reason for this is because Lemire tries to do double duty on these single-issue stories as they all take place in the past and the present for the given character. So while it’s helpful to learn the backstory of Tim-22 and why he’s so bent out of shape about Psius welcoming Tim-21 into the fold, there’s precious little space to deal with the cliffhanger ending from the previous volume. In fact, Tim-22 is still trying to kill his counterpart during his last appearance here.
What’s also disappointing is that most of these flashbacks follow predictable arcs in how they flesh out the cast. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to learn that Tim-22 was treated badly at the hands of humans or that Telsa had a difficult upbringing with her father who was against her joining the military. Bandit’s is easily the most pointless as most of it is wasted on the robodog acting cute until it comes time to reveal the (minor) plot points he’s responsible for.
Things do improve once we get to Andy and Effie’s story. Both of them get nice, smooth arcs that show how they fell in and then out of love as a result of their beliefs regarding machines. Predictable arcs, to be sure, but they’re still sketched out well enough so that when Andy shows up at Effie’s side after she’s received robotic parts as treatment following an attack the awkwardness and pain in their encounter resonates. As does Effie’s desire to embrace her newfound cyborg life.
Driller’s is probably the closest a story in this volume comes to fulfilling its stated purpose. We see the drilling robot’s arrival at the Dirishu mining colony with Scoops, an excavating robot, and are shown how the two come to bond over the years. Things take a tragic turn once time and lack of maintenance catch up to Scoops and human indifference to this fact cause Driller to… Well, if you’ve ever wondered why Driller keeps referring to himself as a killer then you’ll have your answer here. It’s a good reveal that also sets up a potentially interesting conflict for the future.
So I’m not about to write this volume off yet. Still, I’ve come to expect better from Lemire, and from artist Dustin Nguyen too. In Nguyen’s case, however, I think I’m just going to have to accept the fact that I don’t like his painted work as much as his pencils. He and Lemire have done better work elsewhere, which is why it’s frustrating to see neither of them demonstrate what they’re really capable of here.