When the original “Demo” mini-series ran, it slowly shifted from a series of stories about young people with powers to something more to do with young people on the edge of crucial points in their lives. From there, it was a joy to watch Brian Wood evolve that idea into his “Local” mini-series, letting us watch its main character grow up over the course of twelve years at various point in her life.
Now, as Wood returns with artist Becky Cloonan to “Demo,” we’re seeing the cycle come full circle, as Wood has started to bring back the powers into the equation. Happily, it’s fitting in quite nicely. Wood’s latest issue of “Demo” at a glance seems to be impossible to tell without the powers, as a woman who can step backwards in time looks at her stretch of failed relationships and decides to finally go back to the root of the problem and rewrite her own timeline for the better. If you look at it strictly as a time travel story, it’s well told; there aren’t any paradoxes, the sequence of events makes sense, and the emotional core of the story keeps you interested. Elisabeth refers to herself as a cliche in the opening pages of “Demo” and while that’s slightly true, Wood lets us see firsthand not only why she has her defenses up but also back to a point before she’d built up the walls around herself. It’s a character archetype that we’ve seen before, but it’s handled with care from Wood and that makes her still interesting.
What’s interesting to me, though, is that you can just as easily look at this issue of “Demo” as a story about someone wishing they could have made different choices in their life and imagining what the end results would be. You can see the wish fulfillment pattern unfold throughout the book, and while we’re told that Elisabeth has this power, it’s nice that (even if inadvertently) Wood provides readers who want a strictly-real-world story with another possible route. The issue actually takes a slightly sinister tone when you view it that way, because as Elisabeth’s changes result in some surprises down the line, it makes her fantasy that much more disturbing if you see this as something contained solely in her head.
Either way, though, the big moments of the issue are drawn beautifully by Cloonan. Reading “Demo” has reminded me how much I love her art, and how she’s able to draw crisp figures on a white surface on one page, or in a mass of dark brush strokes and shadows on the next. The older Elisabeth hiding behind the car with Evey while bits of snow come down is a scene that works because of the stark contrast between black and white, even as those brush strokes provide texture and depth in the backgrounds. I’m glad that Vertigo agreed to publish “Demo, Volume 2” in black and white like the first, because while Cloonan works well when drawing for color publication, there’s nothing quite like her black and white work. Looking at her full-page drawing of Elisabeth on the swing in the snow, it makes you fall in love with her art all over again.
Even though this is probably the simplest of the “Demo, Volume 2” stories to date, there’s still a good punch or two waiting for the reader. Elisabeth’s actions in the past and then the present once she alters her own timeline are slightly shocking and creepy, and it adds an extra level of heft to the story. It’s been nice to see “Demo” back, and I’m sad that we only have one issue to go. Still, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t go back and time and change a thing even if it meant more issues. This issue of “Demo,” and in fact the entire run to date, is just fine the way it is.