Descender 22 and the Art of the Opening

by Ryan Desaulniers

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

The curtains rise in Descender 22 on a stage which is nearly bare.

The only indication in the first panel that the comic has begun is the indication of the location, the planet Mata. A gentle blue irises on the right-hand side of the panel, and as your eye travels down the page, it’s difficult to tell that there even are panels. A fish glides into view, adding context to the first panel, then the next panel brings a flurry of fish and introduces an element of direction and movement, down and to the right. The gutters between the panels become more distinct here, before artist Dustin Nguyen, in the last image of the page, gives us the gloved hand, bare wrist, and a touch of the signature red of Telsa’s hair. The reader barely has time to think “oh shit!” before the page turn smashes us into a two-page spread of Telsa, floating and limp, wrapped in a hard layer of bubbles, hopeless.

This opening page really strikes me. It’s as subtle as it is gripping, and — as always in this series and from Nguyen — beautiful. I appreciate how much patience the creative team shows here, knowing that the rest of the issue will contain almost non-stop action, to let this first page begin deliberately, methodically, like they are dripping the first panels to us one by one. With this image of mortal despair glued to the readers’ mind, the following confrontation between Dr. Quon and Tim-22 possesses incredibly high stakes and a wonderful ticking clock.

That’s the story for the whole issue, really. Not only is the opening of the comic dynamite, but this issue also serves as a cracking way to begin this next arc, “Rise of the Robots.” All of the big pieces move into place, and do so with engaging action. Descender, at times, can be a bit of a meditative sort of space opera, but this issue shows what the series can do when it’s firing on all cylinders: Lemire writing characterful events and Nguyen showing us a gorgeous, dangerous universe. Though this next arc will certainly be busy, if the creative team continues bringing us moments which really hold their own shape like the first two pages of this issue, then Descender will truly be hitting its stride.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

One comment on “Descender 22 and the Art of the Opening

  1. Loved the stuff with Quon here. He’s such an unpredictable presence — the cliffhanger of whether he saves Telsa or not is legitimately tense because he could honestly go either way. That uncertainty is something I don’t get from most characters, especially ones as established as Quon. I love it

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