With Demo, writer Brian Wood (DMZ, Channel Zero) and artist Becky Cloonan (American Virgin, Flight) team up for a jaded look at the world through a variety of character studies of broken lives. Although the project sprung from an aborted try at a Marvel teen mutant book, Wood does much more subtle and interesting things here than its beginnings would suggest. The twelve characters here, each with their own story, aren’t superheroes; instead, Wood describes them as “young people with power”. They’re the ultimate outsiders, and in most cases, they’re overwhelmed by the potential of what they can do.

The first chapter tackles the issue head-on, with a girl running away with her boyfriend. Her mother forcibly medicates her in order to restrict her psychic abilities. The symbolism isn’t hard to figure out, but the story gets right to the heart of the key conflict between parents and their offspring.

There’s a built-in distrust from generation to generation, and when the younger shows signs of surpassing the former, it comes to a head. Parents now don’t understand how their children think in their more technologically advanced world. We don’t yet know what will happen to those raised to multi-task continually, who grew up with the web, when they mature. It’s not too far a stretch to lightly fictionalize that as an expanded set of brainpowers. Other characters struggle with a too-powerful voice or immortality or a chameleon power they can’t control.

Most of the abilities sound like they’d be cool at first, but these kids rarely benefit from the unusual things they can do. They’re cursed, not gifted, and the best they can hope for is simple survival, learning how to make a life that works for them. Many of them shut off that piece of themselves, often as a reaction to the demands of the larger society.

Fundamentally, the book is about compromise when the only things worth living for are loved ones (which can be, but rarely is, family). The chapters don’t end as much as suggest new beginnings, a chance to try again elsewhere, although that may not be an improvement.

Cloonan’s work is often rough and scratchy, which is a perfect choice for the characters. They’re not final, not yet who they want or are going to be, and the art is designed to suggest that. It’s often starkly stunning, especially in her use of thick blacks. The style and approach also change from chapter to chapter to suit the mood of that particular story.

Cloonan’s a great talent, and she can be seen improving from an already stunning start throughout the book. The stories also become more complex as the book progresses, moving from simple character studies to O. Henry-like twists to pieces that require much more completion from the reader. By the end, the characters aren’t even superhuman any more, but they don’t need to be.

The writer has a website, as does the artist.

4 Responses to “Demo”

  1. Paul Sizer Says:

    I loved DEMO, both for the concept and execution, and for Cloonan’s art, which is getting better with every book she does.
    (Her TokyoPop manga “East Coast Rising” is fan-frickin-tastic.)

    This is way too smart for Marvel, so I’m not surprised they passed on it, but it’s their loss.

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    […] 2007 when he announced that he and artist Becky Cloonan were taking back the rights to their Demo collection (especially since AIT only published the collected edition in December 2005, less than two years […]

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    […] Cloonan reteam for another six stories about troubled young adults with powers and abilities. (The first book was published in 2005 before being picked up by Vertigo.) Although that description is becoming […]

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