Ascender #1 // Review
The universe is an entirely different place in Ascender#1, by writer Jeff Lemire, artist Dustin Nguyen, and letterer/designer Steve Wands. This issue picks up years after the end of the critically acclaimed Descender series, presenting readers with a remarkably different picture of the universe than the previous title.
On the planet, Knossos, Mother, leader of the universe, arrives to find out about her forces’ latest victories. She’s brought to a corpse of a UGC rebel and brings it back to life, trying to figure out how the small cadre of United Galactic Council rebels have been able to keep hidden from her and her forces. The prisoner doesn’t know the source of the magic that is helping them and disappears, leaving behind a robot head. On the planet Sampson, Mila, a scavenger girl from the mountains and Andy from the first series’ daughter tries to trade but runs afoul of Mother’s forces. She goes home to Andy, and the two get into an argument about why he won’t let her join the ranks of the Saved. On Mata, Mother communes with the spirits of other Mothers and learns to be wary of the hound with two tongues. Back on Sampson, Mila witnesses something crash to the planet and finds something completely unexpected.
Lemire pretty much throws readers into the deep end right off the bat but still finds a way to use exposition in a natural way to get readers up to speed. Mother getting a briefing from her generals is a very smart way to take care of this. One of the problems with expository dialogue is that it just repeats things the characters wouldn’t need to repeat for the benefit of the audience; that isn’t the case here. It’s very subtle and doesn’t even feel like exposition, but like readers are watching an event take place. It also gives readers a glimpse into the larger universe and how things have changed- magic supplanting technology, the UGC being a rebel force, and just a myriad of ways things have changed. In Descender, the world building was one of the more fun parts of the whole thing, and by tearing that apart for this new series, Lemire has given readers the chance to have that sense of discovery back.
Mila looks to be positioned as the book’s touchstone character, and she’s a feisty one. She breaks the rules to go and trade in town for fruit and openly questions her father and why they live their lives the way they do. It’s here where readers get little terms like Saved or Freed, conditions that are tantalizing and feel foreign. It anyone guess what they mean in Mother’s new galactic hierarchy, but they serve their purpose. Andy returns, and he’s somewhat broken, which isn’t anything new for the character. Will he change? Will he fight?
Dustin Nguyen’s watercolor-esque art is as beautiful as ever and kind of fits the new lore of the book, one where magic has supplanted technology, better than it did on Descender. It’s not that it was out of place there, but his work has a slightly soft edge to it that works better with a non-sci-fi design aesthetic… even though it worked beautifully with sci-fi designs. He draws Mother’s magic in a wispy, ethereal way that an artist with a different style wouldn’t be able to capture nearly as well. Beyond that, his signature character work shines through, as his characters are expressive and detailed.
Ascender #1 is a book full of possibilities. It drops readers into a familiar place that’s completely different and guides them along expertly without ever seeming like it’s guiding them. Lemire perfectly combines exposition with storytelling and lays out a trail of tantalizing clues to what’s going on. Nguyen’s art is terrific as always, fitting this new, more magic based universe perfectly. There’s a lot to like in this first issue, and it does exactly what it’s supposed to- reintroduce readers to a new, old world and get them interested in what came before and what comes next.