The watercolor science fiction fantasy Ascender, published by Image Comics, is in its third issue. Written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Dustin Nguyen, and lettering and design by Steve Wands. Set in the same universe as their previous work, Descender, Ascender #3 follows the big events of the last issue seamlessly.
In the last issue, young and adventurous Mila and her dad Andy have to flee their mountain life after Mother’s vampire militia and troll militia descended on their home for the use of forbidden tech. Now they’re on the run through the forest, attempting to avoid the militia and a large mountain of a monster pushing them the militia’s way.
While Mila is the focus of the series, the two previous issues intercut her story with displays of Mother’s power. The cold and pale visions of her and her forces are stark against the green of Sampson, Mila and Andy’s planet. This issue, we see that same dichotomy only instead of the emotionless landscape of power we learn about Andy’s life before Mila, and his life when she was young. We see him and his wife, rebels, surviving in in a blank and grey planet.
By using Andy’s past, Ascender #3 builds out the world an emotional world in addition to the fantastical one of mountain-sized trolls and vampire commanders. It grounds Mila in a history of rebellion and her stern father is like that from experience. When I started reading Ascender, I expected a post-technological fantasy with a cruel villain keeping the world under their thumb. While it is those things, it’s also a story about a father and a daughter.
The dialogue is well done, the family dynamic is immediately apparent, and the surprise moments come from left field. Although I feel like I am repeating myself from the last two reviews over this series I need to praise Nguyen’s art. Every page is a perfectly painted watercolor painting.
As I mentioned above, the fact that each issue has starkly different color palettes in different parts of the each issue has allowed Nguyen to really flex his artistic muscle. He also builds out the world of Ascender not only through his creature designs but also through his colors.
Ascender #3 also expands the series by adding in new creatures. Large, terrifying, and some of them even change you, this issue is filled with monsters that would make Guillermo del Toro happy. Overall, Ascender continues to be a must-read title for genre fans. That being said, each issue has ended slightly abruptly, leaving me to think that this series will benefit in from trade volume form.
Ascender #3 is available everywhere now.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.