I tried to talk about Demo, but somehow I ended up talking about Spider-Man.

§ May 1st, 2004 § Filed under Uncategorized Comments Off on I tried to talk about Demo, but somehow I ended up talking about Spider-Man.

Demo, by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan (and published by AiT/Planetlar), is superhero comics distilled down to their basic essence. Each issue features a self-contained story focused around one character and his or her unique superpower. In most cases, the power serves to alienate the person from friends and loved ones (such as the girl in issue #2, who, like Preacher‘s Jesse Custer, can make people do whatever she says…people she tells to drop dead do just that), but in at least one case (the girl in #3) that power serves to tie her in more closely to her family. And that’s pretty much what each issue is about…how each character’s unique problem separates him or her from society at large. There’s no crime-fighting as such (though it could be argued that the super-strong fellow in #4 does just that)…just screwed-up people with screwed-up lives trying to cope as best they can.

What I like most about these stories is that they are self-contained…had these comics been published by Marvel (as, with a little finagling, every one of these characters and situations could have been right out of the X-Men) these stories would just be the first chapters in ongoing serials. For example, the telekinetic girl in #1 could be on the run from the law and her mother with her boyfriend, staying one step ahead of the feds, etc. etc., for issue after issue…but doing so would add nothing to the emotional depth and impact of the very first story. If there is more to any of these characters’ stories, it’s left to the readers to infer those stories on their own, rather than having everying spelled out for them.

Think about Spider-Man. How was Spider-Man improved after his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15? That story is quite possibly one of the most perfect superhero origin stories of all time…the 1960s cartoon couldn’t screw it up, Sam Raimi couldn’t screw it up, and had they ever bothered to show it, even the Electric Company couldn’t have screwed it up. Spidey learns his lesson about Great Power Bringing Great Responsibility, and he spends the rest of his life trying to redeem himself for his part in the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. The End. Every Spider-Man story after that dilutes the original…well, okay, I’ll give you the Ditko issues, but once we get into the endless crossovers, the 300th battle versus Dr. Octopus*, clones and more clones, and, for the love of Pete (Parker), undermining the very raison d’etre of the character with some Dr. Strange-imposed afterlife encounter session between Spidey and the aforementioned late Uncle Ben…time did Spider-Man no favors. Not to say that there haven’t been any good Spider-Man stories since the origin, but what really has been added to the character that you didn’t already know at the very beginning?

Getting back to Demo…Wood’s writing is nice and lean, while Cloonan’s clear, manga-esque artwork carries the stories nicely. The superpower “gimmick” for this series only really gets in the way once (in issue #3, as while you’re supposed to be paying attention to the emotional conflict between the young lady and her half-brother, you keep waiting for the superpowered-shoe to drop) but that’s a minor quibble. Also, it’s a $2.95 comic that feels like a trade paperback…each issue is a standard 32-pager, but the paperstock of the cover and the interior pages is so thick and meaty that you could probably stop a bullet with the darn thing. Plus, there’s extra content in each issue in the form of notes from Wood and Cloonan, which include “mix-tape”/soundtrack suggestions for the comic, interviews, sketches, previews of the next issue, and so on. You certainly get your three bucks’ worth.

Recommended to people who like a little emotional content with their superhero comics, and possibly to people left out in the cold when Grant Morrison left X-Men.

* Expect Marvel to double that number by the time Spider-Man 2 comes out.

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