WHEN DEVELOPING a story about a young robot boy in space, Jeff Lemire expected the writing process for his next creator-owned project to take him to the far depths of the universe.
He landed in Hollywood instead.
Before the first issue of Descender (Image) hit comic-book shelves both physical and virtual Wednesday, Lemire’s science-fiction collaboration with artist Dustin Nguyen had to navigate multiple offers from Hollywood studios vying for the rights to develop Descender into a major motion picture.
It wasn’t the first time California called with interest in one of Lemire’s works. But the attention that Descender received after Lemire and Nguyen announced the synopsis last summer at Comic-Con was unlike any “heat” around any of his previous projects, the writer acknowledges.
Lemire and Nguyen ultimately decided to go with Sony, in part because after speaking with studio representatives, Lemire was confident he’d be able to concentrate fully on what he feels is the most important part of the Descender universe: the comic book itself.
“Dustin and I are very much focused on the comic. I think for us, I think the best thing we can do for the comic and the film is just to make the best comic book we can,” Lemire told The Post’s Comic Riffs. “That gives the studio better source material, and as exciting as it is to have a potential film, for Dustin and I our first love is always going to be the comic book. That’s really where our heart is.”
Although he’s excited to have Hollywood involved, Lemire has been determined not to have potential live-action developments hamper his writing process on a series that is just beginning. The film decision was a little stressful, he says, but the comic always remained the true big picture.
“I think one of the biggest things that went into us choosing Sony [was], we made it very clear — and they were very receptive — that we were going to tell the comic book the way we wanted to tell the comic. Meaning, if in the comic we wanted to veer left and they wanted to go right with the movie, we could do that,” Lemire said.
“We wouldn’t be influenced by whatever decisions they made on the film. Maintaining that freedom and that autonomy to your comic the way we wanted was really important, and Sony was really open to that,” Lemire continued. “I think they just want us to make the best thing we can, so they have something great that they can work with.”
Within the pages of Descender, readers will be introduced to Tim-21, a boy robot who wakes up after a decade of being “decommissioned,” according to Lemire. Tim-21 finds that the universe has turned on all robots. Robots and androids — anything with artificial intelligence — are being hunted down and destroyed. (Lemire envisions the series as being about 24 issues, but said it could still grow.)
“This young boy wakes up and there’s something secretly mysterious about him and his creation … that could save the universe or doom, it depending on the point of view,” Lemire said. “So he becomes the most hunted robot in this hostile galaxy. Jumping from one planet to the next, looking for the secrets of his origins, with human and robot allies and enemies at each turn.”
Parenthood and mankind’s ever-evolving relationship with technology were the inspiration points as Lemire began building the world of Descender. Watching the ease at which his 6-year-old son could handle a tablet — and remembering how personal home computers were not the rage when he himself was 6 — fascinated him.
“The differences in each of our experiences as kids, and the way we relate to technology, is so vast, and I try to project that forward another 50 or 100 years,” Lemire told Comic Riffs. “The fear, and also sort of the wonder, that can come from that relationship with technology and mankind is certainly at the heart of Descender.”
Lemire said that he and Nguyen, who are both parents, enjoy stories that have young characters.
“We love telling stories about innocence and hostile environments and sort of coming-of-age stories,” Lemire said. “So [Descender] is definitely one of those.”
Artwork on his creator-owned projects is typically something Lemire would tackle on his own. But the freedom of project choices that came with ending his exclusivity to DC Comics after five years resulted in multiple offers (including from Marvel, Valiant, Dark Horse, Image). In this case, the best Lemire hoped for with Descender was to be paired with a good artist.
He said he got that, and then some, with Nguyen.
“Dustin is a really unique artist in that he’s incredibly gifted and incredibly good, but also he’s really fast. There’s not a lot of guys you can count on to fully watercolor-paint a monthly comic and you wouldn’t worry about the deadlines every month,” said Lemire, citing Nguyen’s background in architecture as a major asset when creating the visual world of Descender.
“I think before comics, he actually did some kind of architectural design. [Descender] is a book about machines and robots, so we’re building all of these different robots and technology, and also just different planets and alien races and different cultures and the look of the aliens,” Lemire said. “There’s so much world-building that goes on. Dustin has that design background that he can make each of those worlds and each of those machines unique to one another.”
Despite success with various publishers, even Lemire has to admit this is a special time to be at Image Comics. He said the publisher continuously releases some of his favorite titles each month.
“The amount of quality books that Image has published each month is pretty amazing right now, and they’re all so diverse from one another,” Lemire said. “There’s no certain type of book they publish. Everything is so different, and that’s so inspiring as a creator, to read this stuff and see people taking chances and telling the kind of stories they want to tell.
“It’s hard not to get into that and want to do that as well. So that certainly was a big part of why Dustin and I went with Image” for Descender.
Yet Lemire isn’t through working with the “Big 2.” While he has wrapped up his final writing assignments for DC, his upcoming run on Marvel’s Hawkeye (with the high bar of following the run of Matt Fraction) also debuts Wednesday, along with Descender. And yes, Lemire does see parallels in how he is following Fraction after many said that whoever had to follow Lemire on DC’s Green Arrow would likewise have big shoes to fill.
Lemire said that it’s nice to be able to work on projects at the Big 2 that he wants to do. But he does look down the line to a time when he might work solely on creator-owned works.
“I think ideally, it would be great just to do your own stuff. I think that’s the goal,” Lemire said. “Certainly, the dream for me is to get to a point where I was just doing creator-owned stuff. But I’d be lying if I said that it isn’t fun to write a superhero comic. Maybe just one Marvel or one DC book, just for the hell of it — [it] is kind of fun to play in those sandboxes. But it’s kind of good to be in the position where I am now, where I can do the projects at Marvel and DC that I really want to do, and not just have to do a certain amount to make a living.
“So that’s a good place to be.”