Thursday, December 02, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 302 (12/2) -- Demo by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

It's never easy to admit to being painfully stupid, but I have to do it right up front: for some reason, probably due to undiagnosed brain damage, I keep thinking that Brian Wood (the writer of this book, among many other comics) is Brian Michael Bendis. I know that makes no sense -- their names are different lengths, and sound nothing alike. And it's not as if the world isn't full of Brians, either. And yet I keep thinking Wood is the other guy -- if you ever stumble across this blog post, Wood, I apologize. I might have finally gotten them straight, this time...but I'm not making any promises.

Demo -- written by Brian Wood, not anybody else, with art by Becky Cloonan -- is a collection of the twelve issues of the comic of the same name, originally published in 2002-2003. They're unified in theme, in presentation, and in their creative team -- but they don't tell a single story. Instead, there are twelve separate stories here, each of young people looking for love, or their place, or stability, or home, in an often-hostile and always disinterested world. Oh, and most of them have extra-human powers.

Wood came to Demo from superhero comics, but his treatment of the young protagonists in Demo is more akin to classic wild talent stories, from Wilson Tucker and Theodore Sturgeon to George Turner and Stephen King. No one wears a distinctive costume here, or thinks of their differences as anything wonderful -- they're mostly burdens to bear, things that separate them from "normal" people and keep them from living the lives they want. Even the ones that aren't unkillable, or a perfect dead-eye shot, or the possessor of a must-be-obeyed voice -- and there are a few like that -- have something distinctive that's making their lives trouble.

I guess wild talent isn't the right term here -- in the best modern teen style, anything that sets these young people (though they're mostly well out of high school) apart from everyone else is bad, anything that makes them specific people rather than just one of the herd is the cause of drama, upheaval, and pain. (It's that old X-Men metaphor again -- that feeling that no one else in the world has ever felt the way you feel, has ever been anything like what you are. It's a very common teenage feeling, even if it's utterly false.) In fact, in the last story here, that otherness is entirely unspoken -- but, from the last act of the two young lovers, in the last panel, it's clear they do feel special and different and separate, and do what they think they have to so that nothing will ever mar their special moment together

But most of these stories see their young protagonists fighting towards maturity, responsibility, and independence -- and most of them do have the decks stacked against them, from the young man recruited into a wartime army purely for his dead-eye shooting ability to the young woman who changes uncontrollably to be the perfect woman of whoever is looking at her. Just living with themselves is dangerous; just trying to be themselves could be deadly. (Again: that's just how it feels when you're fourteen and no one in the whole world understands you -- Wood gets that, down to the bone.)

Cloonan's art fits Wood's evocative stories like a glove: her work is always expressive, focused on faces and body motions, but her line width and shading varies from story to story -- some are drenched in inky blacks, from spiky hair to backgrounds, while others have a more delicate, precise feel, driven by tone and lighter lines. And Demo is universal enough that its characters' youthfulness works for it: we can remember being that young, having that raw-nerve feeling, even if we are also very happy to not longer be that young anymore.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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