A piece of rappelling equipment used to control your slide down the rope.

There are a number of different types, but they generally attach to your harness and provide friction against the rope, which you can control by manipulating either the rope or the descender. Letting up on the friction allows you to slide down the rope at a controlled speed.

The simplest descender is a figure 8 loop. You run the rope through one O, around the middle, and back through the O, with the other O attached to your harness. If you pull the rope at all, that is enough friction to hold you in midair. You descend by feeding a bit of rope through the loop with one hand.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
image, 2015

Descender is a dystopian science fiction comic book series; this review concerns the first 11 issues, which have been published as graphic novels (Descender Vol. 1 & 2). Volumes 3-6 are also available, but I have not read them. This series is designed to have a more general audience than your traditional comic book, but it appears to be mostly targeting the young adult market.

IT is a unidentified year in the distant future, and humans have populated the galaxy, meeting many interesting aliens and building many megacities. Suddenly, giant killer robots from space kill everyone. Ten years later, Tim-21 wakes after an inexplicably long nap to find all of his humans dead, and apparently, all humans dead. He calls for help, and suddenly all of the remaining galaxy converges on him -- first in the form of alien scrappers who want to kill him, then the remnants of human civilization who want to dissect him, and then evil aliens who want to dissect both him and the humans... And so it goes.

For reasons unclear, it appears that the Tim series of robots share some code with the giant killer robots that devastated the United Galactic Council. Researching Tim-21 might protect against future attacks, help to build giant killer robots of our own, or make a quick dollar in the scrap market. Tim-21 is unclear what he wants in all of this, but his programming has bonded him to his human rescuers, and he wants to stay with them... Although they clearly don't deserve this trust, and his programing is flexible.

The series has some good strengths: the art is quite good, the plot is fast-moving and has a satisfying perfusion of competing and mysterious elements. This is balanced by a fair number of shortcomings, all of them various forms of clich├ęd tropes, from lines lifted directly from the public subconscious, aliens that walked right off the Star Trek set, and character motivations that range from the banal to the literally pre-programed. This mix of predictable characters and fast-moving plot twists seems to be an attempt at being 'cinematic', to appeal to today's movie-centric youth.

Which is okay -- lots of modern novels are more or less like this, but with even fewer robot revolutions. Overall, I wouldn't particularly recommend this series, unless you like fun, lightweight SF or if you take a look at the art and absolutely love it. Which you might. Nguyen is the artist behind Batman: Li'l Gotham and American Vampire, among others, and has a traditional yet striking style, using inked images integrated with watercolor, giving unusually rich textures. His style works very well with far future SF, and in my opinion is the best thing about this series.

De*scend"er (?), n.

One who descends.


© Webster 1913.

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