Exposition is normally a confounding element in comics storytelling. The medium reads quickly and prioritizes images over text. Providing a large dump of information can wreck the flow of a story and put readers off of a series altogether. This makes the challenge confronted in Descender #27 all the more notable as the series is also in the midst of an ongoing narrative packed with cliffhangers and questions of the present. All of this context is what makes the first issue in a three-part flashback so impressive. Descender #27 more than rises to the occasion of establishing the facts needed to understand whatever awaits Tim-21 and his companions next.
The issue, returning from a three-month hiatus, establishes from the very start that this is a new story in some ways. There is no recap page, and the words "Four thousand years ago…" are emblazoned in bold white font across space. This issue is not merely in the past, it cannot have any direct connection to the characters and society readers have learned about in Descender. From the very start it establishes this story as a functional detour and a beginning unto itself. Lemire and Nguyen run through the checklist of a first chapter in short order. A handful of characters are established along with a new setting and core conflict. The heroes of "Old Worlds" are a pair of scientists who decide to defy their conservative leaders and explore space. In the span of a few pages it's easy to become invested in the duo and sympathize with their goals, even as a tragic aura looms about their future.
The expedient positioning of this new narrative is greatly enhanced by Nguyen's art, which contrasts well with prior issues. All of the loose watercolors that make Desender such an inviting series are still on display. His presentation of space still sparkles with wonder and mystery as soft hues form solar systems and distant stars among pitch black inks. Yet the characters and setting themselves feel better explored in Descender #27. So much of the series has been dedicated to multiple plots and sprawling wars that Nguyen's panels have rarely breathed in the past year. In these pages, the goal is clearly for readers to soak everything in.
Nguyen often allows characters to exist in the assumption of their settings, focused on faces and forms while allowing backgrounds to be defined by a few lines or a simple splash of color. It is effective in the context of a longform story, but also highlights how effective Nguyen's more detailed work is here. The architecture, technology, and fashion in this flashback are all new to the series and make this story feel fresh. A single building or shot of dual starship chairs displays much more attention to straight, thin black lines—populating another alien world with a wondrous effect.
Descender #27 dances around the core questions of the series, primarily promising revelations to follow in "Old Worlds." The Harvesters and robot consciousness of the series are clearly pieces of this story, but they remain mysterious figures in the issue. It instead focuses on making the story leading to these answers count. While the scientist at the heart of the story has only existed for a handful of pages, he and his world are as vibrant as the rest of the UGC. It transforms needed information into a valuable narrative. The answers behind Descender and the fate of these new characters remain uncertain, but they have been invested real, meaningful stakes. If the rest of "Old Worlds" can build from this foundation, it can become a high point for the series to date offering real meaning, in addition to simple exposition.
Published by Image Comics
On February 21, 2018
Written by Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen