Stephanie Philips has made a name for herself entering into commonly uncharted territory within the comics medium. However, her trek into a newfound land has been surprisingly bumpy. That isn’t to say the ride isn’t fun, just that it’s not able to properly meet its potential. More than anything, Descendent is a lesson in compression within comic books. Philips consistently gives me, a self-proclaimed history nerd, insightful artifacts into our history and spins the most marvelous of tales through them — her work on Butcher of Paris has been another stellar addition to historical fiction. Here, we are weaved into a tale that’s a thriller of fantastical proportions exploring the conspiracies of American life.
Evgeniy Bornyakov has made some endearing characters that allow us to tread through the different genres Phillips pushes us through. His line work is always simple and detailed, giving the figures unique and human characteristics. Even more impressive is the coloring, which keeps everything feeling as though you were watching a top-tier animated series. Lauren Afee does a marvelous job in keeping my eyes to the page, with a beautiful color palette. And A Larger World Studios’ Troy Peteri’s lettering keeps a subtle flow whilst giving unique changes depending on how a character’s voice would sound.
For most comics, there is a complaint especially prominent in horror and mystery books that not much is occurring. This book may be delving into the thriller genre, but it carries the same problem. Specifically, thrillers rush through necessary character development and carry unearned moments. In truth, this is more a plight of the industry’s mechanism of comic book releases, but marvelous stories like Descendent get hurt in their execution by having to follow the monthly issue schedule.
Each issue feels like it could have been stretched to two in terms of developing its characters. What is worse is that Phillips chooses to create three different protagonists, however there’s no real great depth to them. They predominately just act as archetypes because Phillips also has to control the plot of this story that requires them, but doesn’t define them. The main problem is that reading through this series didn’t allow for a tender moment that made me want these characters to succeed.
The antagonists of this story are the main weak point of this entire series. What is initially set up as a great, looming threat has the rug pulled out from under them because the story needs to be finished within five issues. Again, this series could have been fantastic if written over ten issues; however, with the way the comic industry has been reliant on pushing creators to make each issue a sensation, it’s no wonder this story lacks emotional depth.
There are parts of the story that feel underserved because they weren’t allowed to breathe. It needs more decompression in its narrative storytelling. It’s either this or become used to employing the 9-panel grid system, which may have offered a cool interplay with the idea of formalism and conspiracies.
Despite Descendent‘s faults, it’s genuinely a fun book. The character moments we get allow for the plot to keep momentum. Inevitably, this is a lesson for publishers to allow for greater faith in characters rather than simply maintaining the plot.