Hot damn, Descender just cranks up the fun and doesn’t let up. All the while, it tugs gently on your emotions, revealing deceptively impactful tidbits that have ripple effects throughout the series’ vibrant and ruthless space world. Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen return for Volume 3: Singularities, but this time they take many steps back into the pasts of Descender’s cast. And hoo boy is it a nifty romp. Mild spoilers follow for Descender Volume 1 and Volume 2, so tread lightly.
With the spacefaring, genocidal, crude world of Descender now amply established and the main players in this intergalactic mystery introduced, Lemire and Ngyuen invite us to the relatively recent past. Singularities (a fitting title) gives us issue-long vignettes that flesh out the characters we met in volumes 1 and 2. Bandit, Effie (Queen Between), Tim-22, and Telsa all feature heavily. Each story gives the reader plenty of context, and it comes at just the right time. I was starting to get concerned that Descender would careen to an epic-but-vapid climax, but Singularities dashed that concern in one fell swoop. Now, this is precisely how I feel about the series as a whole:
I’m invested now. Descender has upgraded from a cinematic comic book that I enjoyed between larger novels to a full-on obsession and one of my favorite graphic novel series of all time (though none can truly trump Fables). That doesn’t necessarily mean Singularities is the best of the three volumes I’ve read so far. Instead, I’d say this installment firmly planted the Descender flag in emotional, meaningful story territory. This isn’t some superhero saving the day. It’s a story with a brutal world, deadly consequences, and flawed characters. And it feels this way now because Volume 3 pulled me from the action-packed cinematic wonder of the present-day story and contextualized the characters in new ways. Much in the manner a novel would dole out backstory for a protagonist or supporting character in memories, conversations, and tidbits, Descender lays that groundwork for its characters here.
This approach feels significant to me because Lemire and Nguyen do it at the perfect moment. The first two volumes serve as the first legs of a marathon that, by all means, is interesting. But interesting doesn’t always cut it when you’re telling an epic, sweeping narrative. Pressing pause on that fast-paced, high-stakes story to show us where Descender‘s characters came from shows how firm a grip Lemire has on this story. It shows he has a vision, and that the reader can trust him. Armed with the history of these characters, I know who I’m rooting for, and who I want to see fall. I’m sure twists will shake that up, but the pieces are in play and the game is afoot. Heading into Volume 4, my hunger for the story ahead is more insatiable than it was before I experienced these quieter moments of the past.
No more is all of this true than in the final issue of this volume, which focuses on Driller. Driller, formerly characterized as a dumb-as-rocks mining robot, receives his very own vignette, and it closes out this volume with an emotional gut-punch stronger than any story about a drilling robot has any right to be. Driller’s tale, now fleshed out as much as any of the other characters’ stories in Descender, has as much an impact on the larger narrative as any of our main characters: Tim-21, Telsa, or Andy. Driller’s motto– “Driller a real killer” –sheds new light on his past in Descender Volume 3, and I’m officially a full-blown Driller fan.
As always, Descender’s art and storytelling remain top-notch. My only complaint is that the dialogue can feel incredibly hoaky at times. It’s easy to cast it off as a gentle ribbing of classic cheesy sci-fi dialogue, and I’m happy to frame it that way as a reader. Prepare yourself accordingly.
Now that I’m a bonafide Descender fanboy after reading Singularities, I’m chomping at the bit to finish the series. Stay tuned for my reviews of volumes 4-6, and if you haven’t started reading Descender, get on that immediately.
Rating: Descender Vol. 3: Singularities – 9.0/10