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: Demo V1
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: Brian Wood
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) " And, yes, it’s highly recommended."Review
Demo, a collection of twelve short stories in comics form by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, reminds me of a great album by some popular alt-rock band. Like the best alt-rockers, Wood and Cloonan twist the devices of mainstream pop to unusually thoughtful ends. In the case of a rock band, those pop devices might be catchy hooks, or crunchy guitars. Think of the way that REM used schmaltzy sentimentality to hateful and ironic effect in their first top 40 hit (”This one goes out to the one I love …”). It’s pop, but it isn’t — but, yes, really, it is — but, no, it really isn’t. And so on. That’s how it’s done in music. In the case of a comic book, “pop” means superheroes. Even allegedly non-superheroic pop comics, like Sin City or Planetary, present the reader with superheroes (or supervillains) to root for and/or despise, albeit tights-less, cowl-less, capeless ones. That Yellow Bastard, for example, would be right at home in any Batman story. Demo, on the other hand, remains comparatively non-action-oriented: it revolves around characters with super powers, but in a very different way than your typical Marvel or DC comic does. Well. Okay. That’s a bit of an overstatement. Some of the stories, like the first one, “NYC,” read like subplots in a 1970’s X-Men comic (I totally imagine that the next panel — the one after the ending of this story — involves Professor X’s disembodied head, come to save the day; it has to). That is not to say that they’re not good stories. They are better stories than most stories you read in comics these days. The best stories in the book, though, the ones that actually make it worth reading, are the ones that push all the way through the pop trappings, and past them, into real and realistic moments that you’d never find in a mainstream comic book, or even in any superhero movie — moments that are dangerous precisely because they are so ambiguous, and so startlingly drab.More info
The fourth story, “Stand Strong,” represented the first of those moments, for me. It’s about a blue-collar guy with super strength, a crappy job, and sleazy friends. It’s also, more importantly, about how, for most people, the acceptance of a mediocre, unaccomplished life is probably the only definition of adulthood that really means anything. The last two pages and a half, where James (the protagonist) watches his father’s friends and co-workers socialize in a bar, content with their unglamorous lots in life, speak more brutally about his utter defeat (even in the midst of what seems like a spectacular moment of success) than any number or combination of words could ever hope to do. They also tell of a writer who trusts his artist to make the most important, and most difficult, moments ring with meaning.
Wood’s faith in Cloonan is not misplaced. It is true that she flaunts her influences without coyness — they range from Hiyao Miyazaki to Frank Miller and Paul Pope (each story is drawn in a completely different style) — but she does so in an accomplished, knowing way, that betrays no hint of apprenticeship or naive imitation. She’s not reaching for other styles because she doesn’t have her own. It’s neither an homage nor a swipe, when she does it, in other words, but something else altogether. It’s a part of the story. It’s integral to the structure of the book. Cloonan knows you’re going to think of Miller when you read “One Shot, Don’t Miss,” in the same way that Philip Roth, say, knows you’re going to think of James Joyce when you read The Counter-Life, or, for that matter, in the same way that James Joyce knew you were going to think of Ibsen when you read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: the meta-reference adds another layer of meaning to the text, as they used to say in college term papers back in my day, and probably still do.
Here’s one of the coolest things about the book. The stories are all about people with super powers, right? So as you’re reading them — as one does — you just accept that about them. Super powers are part of this world. Got it. Now let’s see what happens. Then, in story number ten (another of my favorites), “Damaged,” your suspension of disbelief, and casual acceptance of the whole super-power trope, is actually turned against you (and against the seeming protagonist of the story), to provide the cruelest twist of all, as if Wood and Cloonan had come up behind you while you were reading the book, and razzed in your ear, and said, “Ha! You actually fell for that super-powers-in-the-real-world crap! Sucker!”
And you love them for it. Or, at least, I do.
So, yes, it’s that kind of book of short stories: each one sets you up for the next, and it all hangs together in a meaningful way. Like a concept album. Or, yes, like a demo tape.
And, yes, it’s highly recommended.
Written by Brian Wood Publisher
Illustrated by Ryan Kelly.
|Post rewarded by Ojay on Fri Nov 04, 2011 1:57 pm.
|Nice reviewed! 5 WRZ$ reward. Thanks Zach!