PopCultHQ received an advanced review copy of ASCENDER #1 from Image Comics. Available April 24th, 2019, the creative team for this issue features writing from Jeff Lemire, art from Dustin Nguyen, and lettering from Steve Wands.
Here’s PopCultHQ’s Spoiler-Free Review of…
Cover Artist: Dustin Nguyen
On Sale: April 24, 2019
Age Rating: M
“THE HAUNTED GALAXY,” Part One
Powerhouse creative team JEFF LEMIRE and DUSTIN NGUYEN launch an all-new sequel series to DESCENDER with the launch of ASCENDER!
Set ten years after the conclusion of DESCENDER’s storyline, magic has taken the place of machinery and the rules are very different indeed… Mila, the daughter of Andy and Effie from DESCENDER, spends her days exploring the lonely wilds of the planet Sampson and trying to stay out of the clutches of the evil disciples of the all-powerful vampire witch known only as Mother. But, like her parents, Mila doesn’t like to play by the rules, and when a certain robot pal of her dad’s shows up, nothing will ever be the same! With all the scope and heart of the sci-fi classic DESCENDER, LEMIRE and NGUYEN reunite to take readers on an unforgettable fantasy quest!
PopCultHQ’s Comic Book Review:
In an age of magic, Mother sees all and controls even more. What will all this have to do with a young rebellious girl from the outskirts of the galaxy?
A writer who follows up something the scale of Descender with a near opposite point of view is clearly someone who’s earned the grace to tell his stories his way.
Jeff Lemire (Animal Man, Sweet Tooth) is a talent of many facets. Big ideas. Strange ideas. Significant moments. But it is his ability to craft such dimension in the characters that are the strength this issue sails on.
At times, there are moments in the story really reflective of Star Wars or any popular ‘80s fantasy quest. This is parried though with stereotypes that don’t actually read like stereotypes.
We recognize the role the evil mage must play in stories like these, but the distinct voice with which Mother is written, the underlying inherent fear for the unknown quantity that is evident in her character, these are different angles from which to approach things. They’re very effective too.
Even the depth which Lemire grants to Mother’s deceased coven of advisors have character and bite not usually afforded to what is usually a basic device.
There are creepy edges that usually watermark Lemire’s writing, but since it’s played as the norm in this universe, it too feels different enough to reinvest in a continuing saga of another galaxy far, far away.
Dustin Nguyen’s style can’t be talked about with the same metrics you would usually dissect any other artist’s work. He’s not a penciller. He’s also not just an artist who paints. In the most complimentary way, he is an Artist. Period.
There is an unfinished quality to where his basic pencils meet watercolor paintbrush that never really detracts from the read. In fact, it always feels perfectly suited to the story.
The sci-fi world of Ascender is just as suited to it as the espionage and black-ops super heroics of Wildcats, or the vigilante action and mystery of work on the Bat-family.
It’s malleable and fluid and it combines a mastery of colors, figure, and form in rotating importance to give books like this a visual distinction in a field that’s heavily populated. But it never hits that stratosphere that would push the book to the forefront.
It’s simple and subtle because this artist is also a storyteller who doesn’t rely on grandeur and gregarious splash pages to effectively communicate moments.
Art like Nguyen’s should excel when rendering a picturesque mountainside, and it does that. But the design of characters and the use of stylistic tricks to communicate the feel of the magic are just as striking.
Steve Wands’ (Flash, Green Lantern Corps, Adventure Time) lettering stopped me in my tracks in this issue. Sometimes all a letterer needs to do is know when to whisper and when to shout and play tightly to those boundaries. I would have been fine if Wands did so with this issue.
The first few pages are an exercise in downplaying your hand. His effects work here was eye-catching without scene-stealing and his narrative and dialogue where great. But when the story begins to lean into the opposing genres and the narration suddenly switches, I instantly stopped reading and went back to the start, so I could re-read with a keener eye.
I could not believe how effective the lettering worked with Nguyen’s watercolor style. The modern blend of it should not go as perfectly as it does with the fantasy setting done in such a painterly style.
Mila’s narration is so well-realized that it’s as though the character came to life and submitted her own diary to Wands.
In future issues or further printings of this one, I implore Image to include Wands name above the title with Lemire and Nguyen. His work here is just as important to the book as both creators.
While it doesn’t distinguish itself from a lot of sci-fi/fantasy work out there right now, Ascender still reads incredibly well. The mish-mash of ideas, writing style, and art style, really shouldn’t come together as well as it does, and it propels the book along in entertaining fashion. Not just for fans of previous series Descender, a surprisingly accessible read that welcomes new fans with open arms.