Family in Descender 29

by Ryan Desaulniers

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

You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family…

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

How do you define “family?” The answer to this may differ drastically depending on a number of factors, but as subjective as the idea is, many social and medical science disciplines use “family” as a basic unit of study. A UNESCO report claims family to be “a kinship unit and that even when its members do not share a common household, the unit may exist as a social reality.” That strikes me an appropriately broad definition, but could we include robots in it? Descender 29 returns to the “present” after three issues chronicling the first interactions with the eponymous machines which may have created organic life in this universe to a galaxy on fire, but despite the huge plot pieces moving here, the development and dissolution of family units takes center stage.

The issue starts with a bang as the entirety of the United Galactic Council catches readers up on galactic events and the resources they have to bear upon Psius’ terrifying forces until they are interrupted by a death squad of robots. With the death of the Council comes the dreadful subtext: nobody is safe, civilization is falling swiftly, and General Nagoki and his shattered fleet bear the burden of saving all the planets of the coalition. After a full page of carnage detailing the machines slaying and routing organic peoples on different planets, we check back in with the fleet.

Artist Dustin Nguyen continues to draw both Psius and Nagoki with such powerful countenances that their profiles often remind me of carvings of busts. The result is that these two leaders come across more as resolute forces instead of simple beings, both representing the broader interests of their two opposing factions.

But what’s amazing about this issue is that it takes this huge conflict and boils it down to very “human” choices. Andy finds himself torn between his gruff-but-lovable partner in scrapping, Blugger, and his old flame, Effie/Queen Between. The choice presented to him, on paper, seems simple: risk everyone’s lives to rescue Bandit the dog-robot, or get to safety. But the actual crossroads presented here is much larger. Saving Bandit admits that a machine can be worth just as much as a human life, and even more:

Andy chooses to turn his back on his scrapping partner and, in doing so, finally moves from an alliance based on circumstance and into a family unit — the first he’s truly had since his mother died in the Harvester attack. Andy’s entire character arc leads him to this decision, and I found it extremely gratifying to see. What’s particularly beautiful about this moment is that it corroborates everything Tim-21 has espoused since the beginning of the title; the little companion-bot never stopped referring to Andy as his brother, and it’s sweet to see the jaded human finally discover the same belief long held by the innocent Tim.

Tim-21 also expands his family tree on the planet Mata, where he meets the Elder. Dr. Quon designed Tim-21 directly from the codex of the Elder, so the two machines reconnecting — literally in this case — seems like an event, especially when communication is established with the all-powerful Descenders. The Descenders, however, see no merit in helping out Tim-21 and the Elder’s cause of saving the humans and machines in this galaxy. I am eager to see, as this arc continues and our main characters find themselves together again, whether Tim-21 will choose the family he’s made during his life or identify his family as those who share the same design.

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

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