Everybody loves a story about a boy and his dog. Even if they're both robots.
Tim-21 and Bandit are the stars of writer Jeff Lemire's new Image Comics series, "Descender," whose first trade paperback comes out this month. But that's just scratching the surface of this intricate science-fiction series, which features nine worlds, multiple alien races, complicated politics, anti-robot prejudice, moon-size killer robots and mysteries aplenty.
"Descender" also has a lot of heart, as you'd expect from Lemire. His acclaimed post-apocalyptic tale "Sweet Tooth" was about fathers and sons, and the recent "Trillium" was, when you strip away all the sci-fi, a romance.
"I think all stories kind of go back to the same basic archetypes when you really get down to it," Lemire said. "No matter how you dress it up, they're really the simple things that seem to attract me. The simple character relationships — some kind of co-relationship like that, whether it's father-son or a love story, or in this case a boy and his friends."
Tim-21's friends are a motley lot. In addition to his dog Bandit (which Lemire assures me is not a reference to "Jonny Quest"), there's Captain Telsa (who is the daughter of an important politician in the United Galactic Council) and her dangerous first mate Tullis, robotics expert Dr. Quon (who is not entirely what he seems) and mining robot Driller (who is exactly what he seems).
Tim's friends want to protect him, but are having a hard time doing it. Everybody wants him, because his operating system is somehow connected to the ginormous Harvester robots that attacked and almost destroyed the UGC before disappearing. Nobody knows if or when they'll be back, so Tim is something of a hot commodity.
So what is Tim-21? Lemire says he's one of a series of Tims, but won't say how many. And while he's supposed to act human — the Tim robots were meant to be companions for children — is his empathy just programming, or something more?
"This is one of the things we're obviously going to explore in the book," Lemire said. "Why he's so empathetic and human. In many ways Tim is the most human character in the book. Tim is programmed to sort of adapt and be a companion to humans, so he picks up the traits of the people around him. In (the next story line) we get to see more of Tim's early years on the (mining) colony and his time with the family that he lived with. And we get to see how that sort of formed him into who he is, and how he became so human and emotional."
Lemire's partner on "Descender" is artist Dustin Nguyen, even though Lemire is also an artist and draws many of his own projects. But his drawing-board time was being taken up by another project.
Lemire was familiar with Nguyen from working together at DC Comics, and he knew that Dustin was ready for a change. So the timing was right, and Nguyen's style was right. Lemire says it's the most effortless collaboration he's ever had.
"I just let him go nuts," Lemire said with a laugh. "It all comes down to working with people whose work you actually like. I knew what Dustin did before I contacted him; I knew the way he drew and his style, so when I was writing the book I was almost writing it with his style in mind. So I just let him do his thing and I just love seeing it."
All of which is on display in "Descender Vol. 1: Tin Stars" (Image, $9.99), which collects the first six issues. "Descender" the series continues with its seventh issue in November, and was originally meant to wrap up in 24 issues. But now Lemire says 24 issues is probably just the minimum. "You start out with a kernel of an idea, a boy and his dog kind of thing, and the world just gets bigger and bigger," he said.