Demo Volume 2

Brian Wood and Becky 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 less and less accurate — if the first story, “The Waking Life of Angels”, about a girl who is convinced that she’s having a precognitive vision about someone jumping from St. Paul’s Cathedral, was published somewhere else, it would be a somewhat predictable tale about a woman taking control of her life and getting past her delusions.

Demo Volume 2 cover
Demo Volume 2
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But because it appears here, it has a certain veneer of “is she really having dreams that tell the future?”, because the anthology started out exploring how painful mutant abilities would be. The stories here, though, don’t always go that far. The fourth and fifth are clearly paranormal — “Waterbreather” is self-explanatory, and “Stranded” has a time traveler who saves her younger self from a homophobic father in a twisted but hopeful love story — but the others could be metaphorical. “Volume One Love Story”, in fact, is about an obsessive girl who runs her life by instructions on post-its, a lovely piece about control and experimentation but with no powers in sight.

I found this volume very uneven. While “Volume One Love Story” is one of my favorite comic short stories ever, I don’t ever want to read “Pangs” (about auto-cannibalism) again. Although it, like all the others, are about finding new hope or a different life after sometimes horrible happenings, it doesn’t seem to fit with the others. “Pangs” seems to be gross just to be shocking; it doesn’t match the moods of the other pieces, or perhaps it’s just not fleshed out enough (heh). Actually, it’s not the book that’s uneven, just that one story. I would have been much happier with it gone.

The last story is the only one that approaches the nastiness of “Pangs”. “Sad and Beautiful World” is about a couple who literally can’t be apart. When separated, they hurt and bleed and collapse, so they have to stay together even though they don’t want to be anywhere near each other. Looked at one way, it’s symbolic of what some partners suffer through in a long-running relationship, but it’s also a very twisted, pessimistic idea about people living together without touching because they’re forced to be together. I’m not entirely sure what the author is trying to convey, or whether it even makes sense. (I didn’t understand the magic factor until I read it through the third time, and I’m still not sure I get it.)

I do appreciate Wood’s characterization, his ability to visualize these people thoroughly and share them with us through a minimum of well-chosen detail, but I think the true reason to read this graphic novel is Cloonan’s art, which is more skilled than ever. Her work, in black and white, is simply gorgeous, delineating a variety of personalities and settings in just the right ways. They give these stories a depth through image. While Wood can sometimes make us sympathize with people whose decisions would otherwise be inexplicable, it’s Cloonan’s images that make them realistic.

These stories are what superheroes should be — fantastic tales that help teens understand that there can be hope, there can be a rescue or a chance to do it over or find something better. Or maybe just coming to acceptance.

2 Responses to “Demo Volume 2”

  1. ~chris Says:

    I was worried when you left this book off the list of good comics out March 23….

    I think I wasn’t as repulsed as you by “Pangs.” But it was the one story that I didn’t care for.

    “Volume One Love Story” was my 2nd favorite. I absolutely loved the 5th story, “Stranded.”

    Becky Cloonan’s art IS reason enough to read this book.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Definitely. “Stranded” was just a little too cartoonishly violent for me to make it my favorite, but it’s certainly one of the strongest pieces in the book.




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