Descender Vol. 6: The Machine War
Written by Jeff Lemire; illustrated by Dustin Nguyen
Image Comics, 2018

The big machine war arc begins with first contact with machine society by a human scientist, four thousand years in the past. It establishes a significant back story to the appearance of the Harvesters which kicked off the major action in the series. The machines--the Descenders--had given mankind an opportunity to share the universe with machinekind. Mankind failed the test, having built robots to be slaves.

The destruction of the human worlds that followed left only a few humans, and the advanced robots were undiscovered for thousands of years. Their discovery by Dr. Solomon and Dr. Quon led to the creation of the advanced robots represented by the Tim series. Tim was descended from robots that were descended from the Descenders. The Harvesters--destructive as they were--were only meant as a warning. The human response was to seek out robots and destroy them. All of which led to the revolt of the remaining robots, and the power struggle between the human worlds.

When Tim-21 and the surviving ancient robot make contact with the Old Ones (the original machine civilization), they plead the case for humankind. But the machines have given the galaxy a chance, and the creation of a Harvester clone is the final insult. In the end the battle between the UGC and the Gnishians is almost irrelevant, as the machines decimate most of the human civilizations.

Lemire must have had the whole world built before he started the series, but it comes as a surprise at the end. Humans and robots alike were blind to the existence of the Old Ones, so the reader was as well. Of course four thousand years gave everyone a long time to forget! It explains all of the mysteries, even if it kind of makes all of the action in the series look irrelevant. And it establishes a surprising pattern in human civilization: every few thousand years the machines wipe out most of the human race, along with the technology they have created and abused.

But the destruction is not complete. Ten years later, we see one of the surviving human families. The machines have gone away, "and in their absence magic has reclaimed the universe!" One girl is on a quest to find robotkind and its fabled boy messiah Tim-21. Which sets up Ascender, a sequel that is certainly unexpected. It rises out of the ashes of a series which concluded with a dire result.

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