Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen

I have to admit, I wavered on the rating for this graphic novel. On one hand, there was some good work in here, both in illustrations and writing. But that wasn’t balanced by some cliche ideas/settings and images that felt half-finished. In the end, I was drawn into the story and did read it non-stop until the end. But I can’t say I will continue with the series after this first book.

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Story: One day, the Harvesters – mysterious planet-sized robots – appeared above UGC (United Galactic Council) planets. They destroyed swathes and then abruptly disappeared. This created a galaxy wide ban and subsequent destruction of all robots. On a mining colony 10 years later, a boy-like companion robot awakens to find that his colony was destroyed by a mining accident while he hibernated. Turns out, the robot has a connection to the Harvesters that everyone in the galaxy wants to exploit. His creator, a general’s daughter, and more will attempt to recover the boy, Tim-21. Tim, meanwhile, has begun to dream and his creator Quon harbors a frightening secret…..

Most of this first book sets up the story – alternating current POVs with flashbacks. From Tim’s creation to Quon’s reluctance to join a team to recover the robot. It makes for intriguing reading if one doesn’t look too closely at the bones; in this case, so much deja vu from Star Wars to (obviously) Spielberg’s movie A.I. And there is where I feel the mistakes were made. A Star Wars Cantina full of characters, a robot of the same age and looks as the A.I. character, and even the cover of Descending featuring a robot looking up (presumably toward heaven) just as with the cover image of the A.I. movie.

The watercolor artwork was lovely but did feel rushed. Whole pages would only be partially colored – and it just didn’t feel intentional. Especially considering other pages had beautiful and deep color washes in the background. It all felt as underwhelming as the story originality.

Mostly, it was the lack of character building that felt alienating. Quon, Telsa, and every other character other than the robot Tim were thinly described and didn’t really give us much in the way of depth or reason to care about them. Only the boy robot was developed and I couldn’t help but keep seeing Haley Joel Osment’s face and mannerisms in there. That naive innocence that we’ve seen before in so many places that it just feels underwhelming. Why not make Tim-23 a small girl instead? It seems like a missed opportunity to give us something different.

There were some logic issues; e.g., why would a boy’s companion robot have a laser built into his hand (defense? against what??) and why does a miner robot have sentience and hate humans so much? Because, c’mon, in what sci fi novel does giving a robot sentience ever work out well in the end? And haven’t we had enough of “does a robot have a soul if it has a.i.?” question in this genre?

For me, I’ll leave this at a 4 star rating – really more of a 3.5. Descender (why the name?) did keep my interest but by the end, I found I wasn’t really interested in continuing the story. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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