Ascender, Vols. 3 and 4, offer the action-packed conclusion of Lemire and Nguyen’s series that started with Descender in 2015 (reviewed for NFNT here) and continued with the first two volumes of Ascender (reviewed for NFNT here). As this is the end of the series, there are some minor spoilers contained in the review.
In Vol. 3: The Digital Mage, we pick up from the action in the second volume that left us stranded on an island in the middle of the Sampson Sea with Mila, Telsa, and Helda struggling to get a pre-war ship ready for takeoff. Mizard the Wizard and Driller the Robot arrive and help take care of a horde of vampires sent by Mother’s forces. The group break free and set out for Ghost Planet to find someone who can fix Bandit and retrieve the information they need to hopefully find Tim-21, who we haven’t seen since he was taken away at the end of Descender. Meanwhile, Mother is trying to find the Source of all Magic, which might also have something to do with Tim-21.
Vol 4: Star Seed brings all of the characters from both series together at last, and couples the storylines of Descender with its giant planet-destroying robots, and Ascender with its magic and ghouls, into a satisfying, if not slightly rushed, conclusion. The story built Mila up as the all-powerful young heroine we see often in fantasy stories, but Lemire still has some twists left at the very end of the series as the mechanical and magical forces square off for the ultimate showdown.
If fans were looking for more clarification about life after the second Descender invasion, the conclusion to the series offers sparse detail. Lemire gives us just enough to understand how magic became rampant in the universe after the disappearance of everything mechanical, but the power structure with Mother and some of the other planets’ rulers is still somewhat elusive. But, I found that it wasn’t as needed as I originally thought when starting down this journey with Ascender. While the final fight of the entire series was over a little too quickly for my tastes, I wasn’t dissatisfied with the overall story or its conclusion.
Dustin Nguyen’s art is still as alluring as it was at the beginning of this journey, and his play with colors in these last two volumes was especially beautiful. Andy has an extremely well illustrated scene as he deals with his grief in volume three, where all the color is blanched from panels he’s in, but fades back into the panels of action happening concurrently with his scenes. Nguyen gives planets their own color palettes that immediately help distinguish settings and moods from one another. The most desolate looking of places turns out to be the most hopeful, and there are glimmers of color that bely the grimness of the world. These masterful touches and the stunning watercolors make this one of my favorite illustrated works.
Image rates this entire series for Mature. Most of that seems to come from Descender, where there is a lot of bloody violence (you see someone’s arm be sawn off), and one sex scene (we’re there for Mila’s conception). In Ascender, there is still some bloody violence and bad guys dying on the page, but it’s protracted compared to some of the scenes in Descender. There is a bit of mature language throughout both parts of the series, and ultimately I would recommend keeping the series together in an adult graphic novel section.
This beautiful adventure story has plenty of lovable characters and a few that readers will be surprisingly fond of by the end. If readers are looking for a series that blends sci-fi and fantasy well, the entirety of Descender and Ascender are worth discovering.
Ascender, Vols. 3-4
By Jeff Lemire
Art by Dustin Nguyen
Vol. 3: The Digital Mage ISBN: 9781534317260
Vol 4: Star Seed ISBN: 9781534319226
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)