by Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
The action of Descender 24 takes place on a new world to the series, a small, fringe planetoid known as Woch. And while the issue gives writer Jeff Lemire a chance to sharpen his focus a bit to just Driller (and eventually to reintroduce a bit-player who will seemingly become an important villain in the future), my favorite part of this issue is just getting to see Dustin Nguyen bring life to yet another new world, one with landscapes and features unlike any we’ve seen before. It’s no wonder that he uses so many double-page spreads this month — it’s the only way to fit that much wonder onto the page.
Nguyen eases us into this, first with a few pages featuring tall panels, capturing the majesty of the forest Driller and his new companion are trekking through. Already his colors are as breathtakingly beautiful as readers have come to expect, with each brushstroke serving as a blade of grass, and the goblins’ Ghost Bombs appearing all the most haunting for their lack of inked outlines — they’re nothing but paint. It’s when Driller first counterattacks that Nguyen switches into widescreen mode, giving Driller all the more space to throw the Goblins around like ragdolls. After this, though, the double-page spread ends up being reserved for mood-setting background work, like our first glimpse of the forest at night.
Even with other panels overlapping the background, we can see that the forest is a dense, dark, lonely place, with our protagonists crowded into the bottom corner of the page, huddled around the little bit of light they can produce — their fire can’t even begin to light the full space of the page.
The very next page is another spread, introducing the desert and its Tattooine-esque melon sunset. It’s the next page that most impresses me, though, with Nguyen fully committing to the expansive emptiness of the desert.
There’s nothing here but Driller, his companion, and endless sand — we can easily feel how scared and helpless the “old hrrrrman” must feel. Both the spreads I’ve featured have emphasized how alone Driller and his companion are, and have made their survival all the more impressive.
The issue’s final spread introduces us to an underground cavern full of vampires, allowing Nguyen to stretch a different set of muscles with the darker, ink-splattered environment, before picking up his pacing in order to make it to the issue’s cliffhanger in time. Lemire and Nguyen devote a lot of space in Descender 24 to background and environment, but it’s a smart move — they clearly realize that Nguyen’s art and the worlds he creates are just as vital an element to Descender as any of its characters.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
I’m not sure which comic was better visually, this or Invincible 140. Both are now contenders for best comic of the year, both for art reasons (although the stories remain compelling).
Invincible was ridiculous, with Invincible fighting IN THE FUCKING SUN to save the world (and I can’t believe it only has 4 issues left). It was a visual spectacle of two super-men melting in the flames as they fought to the death, each knowing that they absolutely must kill the other for survival. Honestly, reading it, I did not know who would win. It’s Kirkman and he’s ending the comic after 12+ years. Maybe the good guys lose. It was fantastic.
On the other hand, this comic. Descender always has stunning art with Nguyen’s unique painted style. However, at times it feels antiseptic. Form matters in spaceship art, and the emptiness of space swallowing up tiny planets and tinier spaceships can lead to some ordinary panels (although Nguyen here and Rocafort and Foreman in Ultimates certainly excel). This issue, however. Damn. I don’t have it in front of me, but the expressiveness in whatsisname on the planet (and Driller, too), the scenery, the goblins, the colors, the fact that this comic traveled through something like 5 brand new places in the world, each more stunning than the last. This comic was a real killer.
These were two damn fine comics.