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Thursday, November 13, 2003


Demo #1
By Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan
Published by AiT/PlanetLar

"Hey, ever get this weird feeling that you're different somehow? That you have something special, an ability or trait or defect of some kind that sets you apart from everyone else?"

This quote from Demo #1 is featured on the back cover of the issue, and if it suggests not-so-subtly that this is a book about mutants, well, it is. Brian Wood was the original writer tapped to write Marvel's NYX, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that Demo is a retooled version of his concepts for that book (the story in this first issue is titled "NYC," FYI). Given how many creators Marvel has recently screwed over with its humiliating Epic "Program," good for Wood and Cloonan for retaining ownership of this book and doing it their way.

I'm dubious as to whether I need any mutant-based comics in my life, but Demo #1 is a beautiful package. Cloonan's artwork is visceral and human, with chaotic lines intersecting as a visual representation of the peril and uncertainty the two lead characters face. Wood's story involves two teenagers, a boy and a girl. The girl has some sort of powerful mental ability that is being suppressed with drugs, and they flee their lives for freedom in the big city. The key of the story is the bond between Marie and Mike, two outcast loners who have bonded over, one presumes, their disaffection from society, their otherness, their "defects."

Wood has attempted to build an alternative comics career on characters such as this, castoff, misunderstood -- and while my instincts tell me I'd rather see him further develop the raw, unfocused political outrage of such works as Channel Zero, I have to admit that Demo made for an entertaining if lightweight read. Demo is planned as a series of 12 standalone stories, and no themes are really developed or explored in this first issue. It remains to be seen if we'll see these characters again -- certainly, their story has just begun by the time the last page arrives. It's a compliment to the strength of the artwork and characterization that I would like to see where Mike and Marie's story goes next.

The key appeal of the series for me, so far, looks to be Cloonan's art. She has a striking style that makes terrific use of the potential of black and white illustration, and has a couple of standout moments here, including a striking scene when Marie's powers manifest themselves.

Wood still has a lot to prove as far as I am concerned, with his best work, Channel Zero, not saying much more than "Shit sucks, man!" (albeit with excellent production design) and his worst, Pounded, being one of the most pointless, disappointing stories I've ever read. Demo is a good chance for him to develop his writing skills, and this first issue reads better than anything I've seen from him before, integrating the stark outsider-chic of Channel Zero within the context of a more human and humane story.

The last 12-issue series planned as a dozen related but separate stories that I tried (Global Frequency) ultimately turned out to be a creative failure, ambitious but deeply flawed. Wood and Cloonan bring a similar ambition to Demo, and there's potential to spare in this first issue. I look forward to seeing if it's fulfilled. Grade: 4/5


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