Ascender, the science fiction fantasy series set within the world of Descender continues this week with Ascender #4. It is published by Image Comics, written by Jeff Lemire with art by Dustin Nguyen, and with letters and design from Steve Wands. Last issue, the comic moved past being defined by the terrifyingly illustrated vampire Mother and her Lovercraftian monsters, and focused more on the relationship between our protagonist Mila and her father, Andy.
Having fled their home after Andy’s illegal tech – his robot from childhood with all the charisma of a puppy – alerted the vampire militia, the pair are making their way through the mountainous wilderness, fighting a beautifully designed monster. Now, in Ascender #4, we’re back with the vampiric Mother receiving the news of a captured rebel leader. In addition, we continue to see Andy and Mila after Bandit saved them at the end of the last issue. But rest isn’t available, as the two are besieged by the militia no matter where they go.
Ascender #4 shows the pair moving forward, escaping, all while Mother seems to be dealt a painful blow. The dialogue in this issue is scarce, and yet, Nguyen’s artwork is as useful in moving the story forward as it is breathtaking. The watercolors swelling in pores of paper adds a unique emotional weight to the characters’ faces. Flushed, panicked, or evil; the color and lack thereof is a unique and gorgeous way of adding depth to the character designs.
But it isn’t just the human and the humanoid that come alive with depth on Nguyen’s page. His creatures have a beautiful majesty that shows the scope and wonder of this fantasy world. Dragons and flying turtles expand the world to the skies and as Mila and Andy escape to sea, we see more of the blue world that is their planet, in contrast to the darkness of Mother’s home. There is no art in comics like this. It’s refreshing and it’s wonderful. The softer background and thin inking also accentuates Wands’ lettering skill. The stark contrasts in this style make for pages that offer deeper artistic elements.
As Ascender continues, I find myself falling more and more in love with Andy and Mila’s relationship. I’m not one for stories about young children, but their dynamic and his need to save her is beautiful to see unfold. There is a moment when the two are escaping and he asks her to take a leap of faith. In doing so, as they fall, he turns so that his body absorbs the impacts. It’s a nonverbal scene, one of adrenaline and action, but it’s also one of love.
Ascender #4 also sees the second glimpse of the ship captain shown at the end of issue number one. She’s blue, and when she wakes up, I’m sure she’ll add a new dynamic we haven’t seen before. Overall, between the concise storytelling and beautiful artwork, Ascender is a must read for fans of fantasy. It offers beauty, wonder, darkness, and hope.
Ascender #4 is available wherever comic books are sold.
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.