Saturday, December 31, 2016

Descender, Vol. 2: Machine Moon by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen

"Writing for the trade" sometimes only delays the worst impulses of serial fiction, instead of replacing them with the worst impulses of longer fiction. (And sometimes it can just multiply those worst impulses, but we all try not to read those books.) In particular, serial fiction loves the cliffhanger. In a traditional serial, there can be a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter. Is it an improvement to hold off for a big cliffhanger at the end of each arc-slash-book-collection?

Descender, Vol. 2: Machine Moon has a cliffhanger, the same way the first volume (which I reviewed here) did -- and that makes me worry that every volume will have a cliffhanger going forward, as if the creators (writer Jeff Lemire and artists Dustin Nguyen) are worried that we readers won't keep going without that visceral pull.

When I wrote about the first volume, I called out the influence of Vaughan and Staples's Saga -- big soft-SF universe filled with conflict, a small group of heroes on the run and hunted by several factions -- but Descender is plottier and more filled with obvious hooks than Saga is. In the end, Saga is about a family that wants to find a safe place to be a family, in a galaxy that plots against them at every turn. Descender, on the other hand, is about a boy robot looking for something that may not exist (the kid he was created to be the best friend for) and about the secrets underpinning that boy robot and a host of other robots.

TIM-21 and his (allies? friends? traveling companions? captors?) escape from one set of nasty enemies early in this book, and fall in with another group that may be equally nasty -- to at least some of them -- but are not precisely enemies, certainly not to TIM-21. Complications continue to pile up, in the forms of another TIM-series boy robot with his own agenda and, in scenes set far away, of the grown-up boy that TIM-21 is searching for. Is it giving anything away to note that ex-boy has changed in the time TIM-21 was powered down? Or to say that reunions rarely go as expected?

Machine Moon is all middle and increasing complication, though if the story keeps up this pace, the original plot line might complete within another two volumes or so. There's certainly enough story-space to keep going from there: it's a big galaxy, and permutations of our current cast of characters could have adventures in it, or seek to transform it, for dozens of issues to come. But there may be something like an ending not too far in the future, and not just an endless stream of cliffhangers for as long as people keep buying the book. I hope so: I like stories that have endings. It makes them stories.

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