Witches, cults and assassinations, what more could you ask for? Descendent #3 has them all, and more besides. AfterShock Comics’ commitment to great storytelling means that there is already a high expectation when picking up one of their publications, luckily Descendent delivers on all fronts.
The mystery at the heart of the first two issues is starting to unravel and in issue three a number of the pieces fall into place. Stephanie Phillips pushes the plot forward significantly in this issue while beginning to tie all of the different threads together. The conspiracy that was the background for the first two issues, driving the characters in their decisions, has become the central force of the narrative.
The opening sequence in this issue acts as another part of the conspiracy but also explains some of the mysterious elements from previous issues. Phillips is allowing the story to grow naturally and reveal hidden secrets in a timely manner. There is enough mystery to keep the reader interested but not too much that the reader gives up due to lack of understanding. The secrets are there to move the story forward and give the characters a common foundation to work on. How they react to the conspiracy or their involvement in it determines their actions.
Phillips has given the reader a character to lead them through the twisting story, Agent Hernandez. She is like Scully from the X-Files, she is outside the weirdness and is pragmatic in her actions; she has a job to do. However, she is also becoming involved in the greater picture despite herself, just like the reader. Phillips makes her the steady rock at the centre of a spiralling world of uncertainty, the best place to witness the actions of all the other characters.
The links to real events and people is an interesting and risky decision. Phillips weaves the reality with the fiction brilliantly so that you can’t see the seams. As noted in previous reviews, the name dropping in the narrative has a knock on effect that it encourages the audience to venture beyond the comic and research these people themselves. Be prepared to get lost in an internet hole dedicated to the Salem Witch Trials.
The art work is rooted in a realism that sets the scene and gives the narrative credibility. The majority of this issue is set in two locations, neither of which are particularly interesting in themselves. However, Evgeniy Bornyakov gives each locale its own character and by doing so contrasts the two timeframes. This helps to highlight the link between the Witch Trials and the modern day conspiracy.
Bornyakov has mastered the art of character acting in comics. The emotional responses, especially in the facial work, is amazing. Bornyakov focuses on small moments and employs the use of close ups to elaborate a character trait or emotion. His clean, steady line work allows him to build layers into the panels, distinguishing the backgrounds from the foreground. Then a subtle change in these layers focuses the reader subconsciously onto a particular moment or action, emphasising the relevance of the action.
The color work by Lauren Affe helps to create the layers that Bornyakov uses to tell the story. The coloring is naturalistic however the contrast between the characters and the scenery produces that layering effect. Affe works with mostly light and dark contrasts so that the characters are wearing clothing that stands out against the background. In Salem the characters wear dark clothes in a white, puritanical church whereas the modern day setting has mainly white clothing for a grey, office environment.
In a comic like Descendent where there is a need for a lot of exposition, it is pleasing to see that the letterer varies the text and speech balloons. Troy Peteri changes the font size to give certain moments added impact. See, for example, when the witch first enters the church in the opening sequence. He also includes bolded text, and in some cases bolded speech balloons, in order to add a changing rhythm to the speech. The reader can almost hear the pitch changes in the character’s voices as they speak.
Descendent started off as intriguing; another drop in a river of conspiracy stories. However, the complex story, engaging characters and ties to real world events and people, have turned it from run of the mill to a must read. With the plot expanding and the threads linking up, issue 3 is the best so far. Phillips draws you into the comic and then the artists trap you there; once you’re passed the first page you won’t be able to put this down.