Demo is a twelve-issue limited series written by Brian Wood and illustrated by Becky Cloonan. Originally published in single issue form from 2003–2004 by AiT/Planet Lar, it was later collected in digest size. When the rights reverted to the creators Wood was writing for Vertigo, so they published a full-sized collection (with reproductions of the covers and sketch material from Cloonan). A second six-issue series for Vertigo was designated Volume 2, so the original series is now often referred to as Volume 1.
In his introduction Wood describes the genesis of the series this way: "I had spent a few years before writing teen superheroes for Marvel Comics, and I wanted to take a stab at something similar, but something I would have more control over, to interpret the concept of 'young people with power' the way I wanted to." So the thumbnail description would be "teenagers with superpowers in the real world." But the stories quickly went far beyond that. The superpowers changed to more general ideas about power and control, and the characters went from rebellious teenagers to people in their twenties and thirties.
Unlike the later limited series Local these stories are all completely self-contained. There are a wide variety of approaches taken within these broad parameters, and Cloonan responds with a variety of stylistic treatments in her visuals.
I plan to write a brief summary and some discussion points for each issue, a couple at a time. See you tomorrow with the first installment!
Alright, it has been a while since I've been able to participate in one of these. This one I have, and it was great.
I thought this was a really strong series, on point with Wood's Local. It reads breezily enough; I may try to read some of it during the discussion this week. Lots of different superpowers on display in very mundane ways. (I recall one, involving a kid who had a job at a grocery store or something, where I couldn't tell what his power was supposed to be...)
I think as the series went on the powers became less and less obvious, and they were never the main focus of the story. By the end there were several stories with no powers involved at all. Looking forward to discussing this!
#1 – NYC
The first issue opens with a young couple getting off a subway train in New York City, talking about "this weird feeling that you're different somehow." Which looks like Wood is setting up some serious teenage angst, until you turn the page, and the guy says "Yeah, isn't it fucking great?" Then the story flashes back to "the suburbs, one year earlier." Marie's mother is forcing her to take her medication, which she spits out when she gets into the car with Mike. They're running away to the city, and Marie has resolved to get off her meds en route. She explains that they're powerful mood stabilizers, and without them her brain goes into overload, strong enough to move furniture around. When her withdrawal symptoms get so bad that they stop in a parking lot, she says she's got enough control to avoid hurting herself, and just lets go. The resulting energy shock wave destroys their car and radiates far out into the lot. The couple resumes their trip by bus, and the story ends as they arrive in New York.
It's a bold beginning to the series, starting right out with a happy ending and a flashback. The story does deliver perhaps the most dramatic "powers" in the whole series. But it's really about trust: Marie achieves control with Mike's love and support.
#2 – Emmy
Emmy is a lonely outcast working at a gas station. The opening pages are silent. She explains that she's going to be writing down her story for us to read, because she prefers not to talk at all. Since the people in town are afraid of her, not talking comes pretty easy. When she used to talk people "always did what I said, no matter what." Her mother is in some sort of semi-catatonic state because of something Emmy said to her (we never find out exactly what). But she's not exaggerating about her power. When a customer angers her she tells him to drop dead, and he does. She says goodbye to her mom, and is last seen running across a field to escape the police.
So they're not all happy endings. Emmy's power has brought her nothing but pain, and there is no hint of anything positive that could come out of it if she learned to control her tongue. Cloonan's art undergoes a dramatic stylistic shift here, adopting a Manga influence.
The first story was a really good opening sequence. Like you said it was the most i your face as far as the powers go. he would ratchet it back with later installations.
The second story, was a really moving piece. Really shows you just how depressing super powers can be. How dangerous they can be even when you try to be careful. I actually thought this would end in a suicide.
It shows that Brian Wood has put a lot of thought into these stories.
I enjoyed these stories, too.
#3 – Bad Blood
This issue opens with a funeral. Samantha Hurley (we don't learn her name until several pages in) is with her half-brother Sean, ruminating on how awful her family is, and how neglected she was growing up. Sean starts defending their father, then grins and asks if she wants to see him. Next thing you know, he's driving down a hillside and crashing into a tree. Samantha comes to impaled by a branch and wondering why she's still alive. Sean explains that Hurleys don't die: he had to show her, or she wouldn't have believed it.
Immortality: that's a power I wasn't expecting. Once again the bulk of the story is about the family dynamics, though. Wood sketches out a rich portrait of a seemingly dysfunctional family in just a few pages before the surprise reveal.
#4 – Stand Strong
James is offered a promotion to shift manager at the factory he and his family have worked at for generations. His father wants him to settle down and accept the blue collar life. James turns down an offer to join his father and grandfather for a beer and meets his friends instead. They pressure him to join them to break in to the factory and steal the payroll. Soon it's clear why they want him along: he has what can only be described as super-strength, effortlessly smashing through a brick wall with a sledge hammer, then picking up a heavy safe and throwing it down a stairwell. James dumps his girlfriend and his friends, and goes to join his family at the bar.
Nice double meaning in the title. James is physically strong, but he also has to decide how he wants to live his life, and stand by his decision. The story is really about life decisions, and James does not take the path you would expect from a typical "troubled teen" story.
#5 – Girl You Want
The protagonist here is Kate, a woman who we see at a crowded college party in the opening scenes. She's complaining about how fixated everyone is on appearances: they just see what they want to see. But in her case men literally see what they want to see, as she is pictured completely differently from panel to panel. So when a Starbucks server actually sees her as she is--she double-checks by looking in a mirror--she thinks she may be in love. Her attempts to befriend the other woman fail miserably, so she follows her home on the bus (the first of the stalker plot lines in the series). When she sees the server pay a babysitter and greet her young daughter, Kate realizes that she doesn't know her at all.
Like the Emmy story this is another case of powers having a negative effect on the holder's life. Kate has become so accustomed to being seen as someone other than herself that she doesn't even know her true self, and she's desperately lonely, unable to trust anyone.
#6 – What You Wish For
A young newlywed man stops by his old neighborhood with his new wife. He recalls his childhood as the only Asian kid, feeling miserable, angry, and out of place. Things came to a head when a neighbor killed his dog. His anger boiled up: the dog came back to life and began attacking the neighbors like the spirit of vengeance. Finally the boy calmed down, setting the anger and hate aside, and the mayhem stopped. Back in the present, the young man is grateful that he stopped the hate before it ate him up.
Hard to pin down precisely what the powers are here. But they are nearly as explosive as the telekinetic powers in the first story. And living a normal life again requires that the powers be controlled.
#7 – One Shot, Don't Miss
This chapter opens with PFC John Hatfield on his way to Baghdad International Airport. During rifle training he's a dead shot: he hits the bulls-eye every time, never misses. On patrol that very accuracy is his undoing as a soldier. He knows that if he aims at someone he'll kill them, and he realizes that he can't do that. He gets sent home, and the early discharge throws his family life into crisis. His wife has just gave birth to their first child, and he had joined the Army for the health insurance and an income to support them. His homecoming is not a joyful event. The story closes with him holding his child and promising his wife he'll figure something out.
As a DC guy, I think of this as a Green Arrow power. But John isn't fighting crime, he's just trying to get by. Since he's unwilling to use his power to kill, it again seems to hurt him more than help him.