[EDIT: Welcome, Larry Young fans! Be sure to also check out my response to what brought you here, here.]
I have to admit to having an extreme aversion to hype. I call it the American Beauty-syndrome, in reference to the inexplicable amount of praise that overrated retread of suburban dysfunction received. I saw it three weeks after it opened, simultaneously impressed and concerned by the amount of hype it was getting, and absolutely hated it. As the hype continued to grow, I hated it even more, nearly bursting a blood vessel when it won Best Picture honors.
DEMO is now my comic book equivalent of American Beauty.
Hailed as the “Indy of the Year” by Wizard, yet snubbed even an honorable mention by The Comics Journal, I can only believe that some people give extra credit to intent when actual content goes missing, because Brian Wood’s self-righteous attempt at “a whole new and different take on superpowers” is little more than an interesting concept crippled by half-assed execution. When you get bold and go promising “new and different,” you better deliver the goods and Wood just doesn’t do it.
Twelve individual stories, very loosely connected by the aforementioned “superpowers” theme, DEMO might best be described as the X-Men Professor Xavier doesn’t track down. Or, if you wanted to be snarky, NYX if it were more pretentious and had been published on a regular schedule.
That is, of course, only referring to the issues where Wood actually stuck to his self-proclaimed “new and different take on superpowers.”
The first six issues stick to the formula pretty closely, introducing a thinly-drawn character with a special ability (“superpower”) that reveals itself as each vignette progresses, all with a very Twilight Zone-ish kind of structure and pacing. The fourth issue, “Stand Strong,” is probably the best of the bunch, with Wood’s minimalist script benefitting from artist Becky Cloonan’s strong storytelling efforts, giving the clichéd tale of a small-town boy faced with growing up an emotional heft the story itself lacks, particularly the virtually wordless final four pages.
In the seventh issue, “One Shot, Don’t Miss,” Wood offers a clumsy, though well-intentioned, dis to the military’s penchant for recruiting “poor, disadvantaged, and minority soldiers” with misleading promises of financial stability. Unfortunately, his brief explanation at the end is much stronger than the melodramatic, black and white spin I paid for. Preaching to the choir – of which I am certainly a member – doesn’t qualify as “new and different.”
Over the next few issues, Wood deviates from his “whole new and different take on superpowers” and offers “a whole new and different take on” relationships, except, of course, without the “new and different take.” It’s almost as if he ran out of ideas for rejected New Mutants and decided to instead indulge himself with the presumably unexpected audience DEMO found to work out some of his own personal issues.
The final issue, “Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi” is a terribly boring romantic aside, four pages stretched to twenty, that reads like something a starry-eyed high schooler wrote to their first love. It closes with a short piece as Wood and Cloonan switch roles, returning to the two characters from the first issue only to cover the exact same ground, adding nothing new to the story or the characters.
If I had been buying DEMO every month, I would have definitely stopped with the clumsy seventh issue, if not before. Having bought them all in one shot, though, including the no frills scriptbook – straight scripts, typos and all, with no extra commentary or anything – I can’t help but feel like Wood owes me some money for not delivering on his promise.
I’m hesitant to implicate Cloonan in any of this mainly because it’s clear from Wood’s scripts that he was calling the shots, and she did some interesting work throughout, especially the great covers. For fans of her art, I’d suggest issues #4-6, 10 and 11 as great examples of her following through on her stated intent to “chang[e] up the style to match each story.” If only Wood had met her halfway.
DEMO #1-12 (AiT/PLANET LAR, $2.95/ea; Written by Brian Wood, Art by Becky Cloonan.