Exclusive: Jeff Lemire on that Descender cliffhanger, the movie, and Plutona

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Apr 29, 2019, 6:24 AM EDT (Updated)

Of all the things to talk about with artist and writer Jeff Lemire, I’m most intrigued by the robot boy at the center of his book Descender

Lemire -- who also gave us the creator-owned the Essex County Trilogy, Sweet Tooth and Trillium -- has been busy in the “all-new, all-different” world of Marvel Comics (on Hawkeye, Extraordinary X-Men and Old Man Logan) and is working on a graphic novel with Scott Snyder (on AD: After Death, a project that will demand additional attention shortly). But I’m nerding out over Descender, a sci-fi space opera about an android child, an A.I. apocalypse and a battle waged between humans, aliens and machines.

Quite simply, Lemire’s Descender is darn good comic-book storytelling, with lovely art by Dustin Nguyen. Seriously, you should be reading this Image Comics title and picking up Volume 1, which collects issues 1-6 and is available in comic shops now (you can also read the first issue for free over at Boing Boing).

I spoke with Lemire, who is something of modern comics royalty, about Descender. And yes, we talk about the big reveal at the end of Issue #6. We also touch on the first issue of Plutona, which streets today.

Tim-21 is a sympathetic robot character. What is it about your creative process that makes you more interested in that versus, say, a Terminator-esque A.I.?

The robot aspect is the least interesting to me. I have always been drawn to young charactersand seeing big tapestries through the eyes of a child. It probably comes from being a father myself, and having a young son, and seeing the world through his eyes. I write stories that are sort of the exaggerated version of that. The fact he’s a robot is secondary to him being a child. 

Is there anything in Tim directly inspired by your son?

Not really. Maybe a more general thing would be watching my son, and this current generation of children, interacting with technology. When I grew up, no one had personal computers, and now he’s a 6-year-old boy who knows how to use an iPhone. It is a completely different experience. If you can project that forward how many thousands of years in the future, you can see something like Descender, where technology and children have literally combined into one thing.

The characters Quon and Telsa seek to protect Tim, but is it because of their own agendas or because they’ve connected with him?

It will change as the story goes on, but initially Telsa’s motivation is to do right in the eyes of her father. That is something I’ll be exploring more with her. Quon, I don’t know if he realizes it or not, is someone who is looking for redemption and salvation. He has done something really bad, and we haven’t seen the extent of everything he has done. Both of their motivations are more selfish than out of a connection to Tim. 

There is a big reveal at the end of the volume where we learn about Tim-22. How does this change where you’ll take the series next?

Well, it doesn’t really change the approach, since I always planned on Tim-21, and what it’s going to mean for Tim-21. Certainly knowing that Tim isn’t unique was gathered from his name to begin with. But now the question is, is Tim-21 somehow linked to the Harvesters and the bigger mysteries? Is Tim-22 as well? These will be answered as the book goes on.

How do you keep Tim-21 special when we know he is only one of a series?

One thing I’ve established is that each Tim model is very adaptive. They come from the factory floor and are shipped to be companions. Each are shaped, and evolve in relation to whoever they spend time with. They each take on a unique personality and perspective based on their own experiences. Some have had very bad, negative interactions with humanoids or aliens, some have been positive. That has shaped each one in a different way.

You’ve said you’re writing out to a definitive end. Is that still the case? 

Oh yeah, I have the whole story plotted out in great detail, and did before I wrote the first script. It gives you room to come up with new ideas, and characters, and go more in depth with things. But, in terms of the basic structure and plot, it’s been all pretty much set. 

Is this still a 24-issue series?

That was my original plot. As certain supporting characters started falling in with other characters, expanding their backstory more, finding ways they can tie into the bigger story, and things like that. If anything, it’s growing in size. At this point, 24 is the base number. It could be anywhere from 24, 35, 40.

Sony purchased film rights to Descender while it was still being written. How does that business deal impact how you approach storytelling? And is this a good thing when they step in at such an early stage?

It doesn’t affect us at all. Hollywood moves so slow, and to be brutally honest, we’ll probably be done with the book by the time anything happens. And so far it’s not going to change our course at all. It goes back to I had the whole story plotted out before we started. Whatever decisions narratively a screenwriter makes for a film will be independent of what we’re doing. 

What can readers expect from Plutona?

It is a group of kids who discover the body of one of the world’s greatest superheroes in the woods after school. Then the series isn’t so much about the mystery of what happened to her, but how what the discovery does to the children, and how it changes them as a group. Stand By Me is a good touchstone or reference. There’s a bit of Lord of the Flies in it as well. And my love of superheroes growing up, and taking those tropes and looking at them with a different perspective.

Will the kids who discovered the superhero’s body be interacting with more heroes? 

No, it is much more grounded. In this world, superheroes are pretty scarce. They are the equivalent of celebrities or movie stars. It is really very disconnected from their daily life. They are there, and exist in this world, but not something they touch or see on a personal level. The story stays with these five kids and their daily life. They are not going to be swept up in a superhero adventure. They discover this crazy, fantastic thing, but afterward they go back to school the next day. It’s about how the discovery changes that life.

What is the status of AD: After Death with Scott Snyder -- about a future where death has been "cured" -- as well your other projects, such as Extraordinary X-Men?

I’m just starting to dive into the graphic novel. That is something he and I have been developing over the last year. It is finally got to the point where we’re at the nuts and bolts of making the book. That is really exciting for me, to be working with him and collaborating on something someone else has written. It is something I haven’t done a lot of in the past. I also just finished the graphic novel Roughneck, which I wrote and drew, that will be published by Simon & Schuster next fall. That took me two and a half years to draw, and A.D. will be equally intense. Those are two projects I’m really invested in. Also, doing the X-Men for Marvel is a blast. I never though I’d get a chance to do something like that. It has been incredible fun to sit down and write these iconic Marvel characters I grew up reading.

Would you consider right now to be a healthy state of affairs for the comics industry?

Absolutely. It is incredibly healthy, because the market for creator-owned books just seems to be growing and growing. The market for original ideas … clearly the readership for comics is becoming more diverse by the day. The stories are becoming more diverse as a result. It is a really great time for creators like myself who wants to do my own creator-owned stuff and also work with Marvel, and do genre work.