The first volume of "Demo," a 12-issue mini-series published by AiT/Planet Lar, was one of the best comics to come out in 2003-04, as Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan crafted fantastic stories about people who powers of some sort (sometimes only in the most ancillary sense of the word.) Every issue was self-contained and the subject matter ranged from a young boy who is picked on whose powers manifest in a frightening way, to the dissolution of a relationship. Word that Wood and Cloonan would be doing a six-issue second volume brought about mixed feelings of wondering why they would want to return when the first series was so great and the desire to see more stellar work from the pair.
The first issue is pretty good, but it isn't of the quality that the best "Demo" stories were six years ago. That still makes it one of the better comics to come out this week. The story concerns Joan, a woman who is haunted the same dream over and over about a woman who is killed. The dream is so intense that she's afraid to fall asleep and it overtakes her life. When she discovers where the dream takes place, she is compelled to help the woman, convinced that it's a warning, and that it's her duty to save the woman. Where the story goes after that isn't too hard to figure out or to see coming, but the telling is skillfully done and effective.
Wood told CBR's Steve Sunu that "These stories have a lot more of a supernatural flair than anything else," and that's reflected here. "The Waking Life of Angels" reads more as a horror story or psychological thriller than a story about superpowers; Joan is obsessed with this recurring dream and her compulsion to stop it from happening. However, the story feels incomplete since we know so little about Joan and her life. When she quits her job and ends her relationship, those actions mean little since we don't know how important to her they were to begin with. The focus on her obsession with this dream shunts everything in her life to the side, but the story's focus on her obsession does the same, making her obsession less powerful.
That lack of impact is counterbalanced by Becky Cloonan's stunning art, which, like the first series, is presented here in black and white. She uses a seemingly basic layout of two or three tiers with rectangular panels, but makes only the non-sleeping world's panels' borders straight. For the dreaming panels, the borders look as though they were attempts at straight lines done freehand, an effective technique that pays off later in the issue. Cloonan's line work is minimalistic for the most part in this issue, but she does some amazing, intricate work for the setting of Joan's dream that stands out because the rest of the art is much simpler and less detailed. The dream being more detailed than the real world is an interesting subversion of how dreams are usually depicted in art.
Cloonan's depiction of Joan throughout the issue adds quite a bit. Much of Joan's obsession and strange behavior is carried by Cloonan's art. She does some of the best facial expressions I've ever seen her draw in this issue with Joan.
While not a 'knock you on your butt' issue, the debut of the second volume of "Demo" is a very good comic and a worthy continuation of the first series. The comic itself also keeps the same format of the original series with back matter material, including Wood and Cloonan telling us everything we need to know about the first series, process material, and a preview of the next issue.