Review by Jamie McNeil
Jeff Lemire loves a cliff-hanger ending. Every volume finishes on a good one, always ensuring an action packed opening for the next. We find Captain Telsa and Doctor Quon facing down the psychotic wrath of tiny terror Tim-22. Can they put aside their distaste for each other long enough to survive? Andy, Effie, Blugger and robo-doggie Bandit are homing in on TIM-21’s signal when they are caught between the Hardwire and the UGC’s respective fleets. Then the Hardwire’s leader Psius executes a devastating plan. Now there’s a desperate race to uncover the ancient robot from which all robot-kind is derived. For some it’s about survival, for others it is about profit or even liberation from tyranny. All the while TIM-21 is drawn by visions he shouldn’t be having towards an inexplicable if unexplainable destiny. For all he knows it could be the salvation of all life forms or its destruction.
Rise of the Robots is the penultimate volume of Lemire’s and artist Dustin Nguyen’s space opera Descender. By now it should be no surprise that the creators have us completely invested in multiple storylines from the first page. As he steers towards the story’s conclusion Lemire ties up some loose ends while hinting that the Harvesters – the cause of so much civil strife and suffering- might be returning. While Descender does differ in many ways from the normal sci-fi, Nguyen’s fabulous art for one, it looked to end much the same as any other monomyth. Well that isn’t going to happen! Using Driller- the mining droid with conflicted soul – Lemire introduces us to a beautiful new possibility. It will take Descender in a new direction, even suggesting that events we had not considered are about to transpire with far-reaching consequences. It’s an exciting prospect that reverses certain genre tropes, something Lemire excels at.
Nguyen employs lighter tones which give both a clinical appearance to the interiors and a sense of building dread. The influence of Jim Steranko is evident in the layout of the sound effects and panels that are, Golly Gosh, just… awesome! The overall tone is creepy horror sci-fi, a very different tack to previous books. It isn’t a sub-genre readily associated with Nguyen’s style, but the disarming nature of the watercolours work well. Once again he bucks the trend and surprises us. However, Rise of the Robots does have more heft when contrasting blacks and sharp colours are employed, with the fantastic space battles a prime example. He keeps experimenting with different techniques to present the worlds of Descender and has yet to go wrong. So either he is incredibly skilled or very lucky.
After the visual and literary spectacle of Orbital Mechanics this is a slight comedown. It is quite different from previous books, but the art and writing are both decent. That doesn’t sound exactly like a compliment, but if this was your very first experience of Descender you would most certainly be blown away by its beauty. The pieces falls into place as we head towards the final showdown in Machine War. Or are we?