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!
#8 – Mixtape
A truly haunting episode, and the first one with no obvious connection to "powers." Nick wakes up to find his girlfriend Jess dead. Before committing suicide she made him a tape: he spends the day listening to the tape and having the conversation with her about their relationship that they never had while she was alive. One of the most powerful things about the story is that she never explains why she killed herself. She tells Nick that maybe he never really knew her, and tells him to move on. In the end her ghost tells him that he has to throw the tape away, to let it go.
There's a supernatural element here that has not been present in the previous stories. But the writing is so strong that I never questioned the reality of Nick conversing with his dead girlfriend via a tape. In the final scene the tape has stopped, so there's not even that excuse to suspend disbelief.
#9 – Breaking Up
The title pretty much says it all. Angie invites Gabe to a coffee shop to break up with him. As they talk the scene shifts to earlier times in the relationship, from the happy early days to increasing friction. In the end they both acknowledge that they still love each other, so the ending is bittersweet.
This chapter is a pure slice of life story, much like the later Local miniseries. This makes two breakup stories in a row, in a way. It's interesting that Wood chose to tell both from the woman's perspective.
#10 – Damaged
Successful young businessman Tommy meets a mysterious young homeless woman. She knows all about his life, claiming that just knowing things about people is a "gift" she has. She's easy to talk to, so he keeps meeting her, offering her money each time to help her get by. One day he returns to his apartment at an unexpected time and finds her squatting in the empty apartment next door, which is full of surveillance equipment. He angrily runs after her outside in the rain, where he is hit and killed by a car. At the funeral the stalker (we never get her name) meets Tommy's mother. She offers condolences and an envelope of money, saying she was Tommy's therapist.
Wood plays with the idea of powers here by portraying someone with fake powers. We're led to believe that the title refers to Tommy and his life problems, but clearly it also describes the young female stalker. In a way she actually did function like a therapist for Tommy, so it's a weird mixed message. Cloonan draws the stalker in an exaggerated Manga style that contrasts with the rest of the art, perhaps to emphasize that she's not "normal."
#11 – Midnight to Six
During 8th grade detention three friends sign "The Slacker Pledge," promising to be slackers forever. Ten years later they show up for night shift doing maintenance at a supermarket. The slacker life has grown stale for two of them: Brad is applying to technical college, and Jill has written three novels on the sly. Jace can't let go. As the story closes he greets two new additions to the night shift.
Another story with no powers. A coming of age for two of the friends.
#12 – Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi (My Last Night With You)
An experimental final chapter, a love story written in verse. It's a beautiful story, right up to the shock ending, as the couple commits suicide by jumping off a roof together.
Again no powers. The narrator says "my last night with you" towards the end, but the French title actually translates as "my last day with you." Wood & Cloonan maintain the surprise by not giving the title until the final page.
Playing some catch-up here...
Story 4, "Stand Strong" may have been my favorite of the bunch. As it was one that came closest to a happy ending.
I think "Mixtape" was the saddest to me. I liked when his girlfriend told him that everything isn't about him, not even her suicide. Powerful tale.
"Damaged" was really creepy, and when Brian Wood really turned his own series on its ear with a nice fake out.
The last story was a nice experiment, these kind of things don't always work, but I think Wood and Cloonan pulled it off.
Through out I think Becky Cloonan's art was top-notch. I really liked the way her style changed in the different stories. More cartoony, a heavier line, more or less shadows. Great work.
Thanks for stopping by, Travis. I agree about Cloonan's art. I tried to comment on the shifts in her style in a few of the stories, but there's a lot of variation throughout. If I had read this series while it was going on I would have become a fan of hers earlier than I did.
I hadn't thought about picking a favorite, but I think "Mixtape" would get the nod. Very sad, but also haunting.