The Pull List: Descenders Makes Genocide Feel Mannered–Now I Feel Desensitized and Terrible

On this installment of Pull List, where we review first issues of new comic series, we’re reading Descenders, in which a mysterious attack on the nine Core Worlds brings an intergalactic federation to its knees, resulting in a rash of prejudice and chaos.

Image’s new sci-fi mystery/adventure series Descenders manages to pack a ton of ideas into its debut issue, but this ends up working against the fledgling space epic. There isn’t really any time to bond with any of the themes or characters, and consequently, most of the book’s elements feel like shadows of previous stories, both older and more recent.

For one, at its heart Descenders is a genocide narrative, this time against robots, after a link is found between the federation’s synthetic inhabitants and the unexplained attack that reduced the populations of nine entire planets to a fraction of what it was. The strange thing is that I made a connection between this and Saga, a series which Descenders doesn’t really bear that much similarity to, aside from the idea that population x despises population y, but that fact speaks volumes: this first issue gave me so little to care for that my first mental connection was between it and a barely related series.

That same vagueness plagues basically 90% of Descenders #1; the attack occurs just a few pages into the issue, and consequently, we’re only familiar with the “after” image of the catastrophe without any conception of the “before.” It’s pretty hard, then, to understand either the luddite anti-robot factions and the pain that motivates them, or the dramatic state of the near-extinct robot populations.

And ditto for the characters we’re given: a washed-up expert on robotics named *flips through the book again* Dr. Quon, the no-nonsense military-type responsible for recruiting him, named, gimme a second *flips through yet again* Telsa, and Tim. That last one I didn’t need to reference, because that’s the only character with a vaguely original exposition. Tim’s introduction cleverly masks the fact that the fresh-out-of-cryogenic-sleep child is actually a robot for much of his panel-time, and the reveal is consequently shocking, and almost grotesque, so much so that you relate, for a sickening moment, to the anti-robot zealots that rove the stars after the attack.

Illustrator Dustin Nguyen, however, proves his chops wonderfully in Descenders #1. His watercoloring produces a beautiful gloss, a pleasant and believable simplicity to the sleek, futuristic technologies. Nguyen’s clearly got a great eye for balance, which says a lot when he’s tasked with depicting humanoid machines packing extra appendages and features in Swiss-army knife amounts.

Altogether, there’s really not enough to inscribe this issue into a comic-shopper’s memory, especially with such a glut of series’ taking place in intergalactic settings, with giant robot attacks, with discriminated parties on the run, etc. etc., but who knows? The next issue could very well flesh out the ideas of the first in a more original manner. But the first does not.

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