Demo: v. 1 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

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Demo: v. 1 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A lovely collection of twelve stories of teenage life affected by unusual powers. The simple way it gets so much depth from putting the usual with the unusual is most charming.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 328 Date: July 2008
Publisher: Titan Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1845769215

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It's not every young disaffected teenager that will respond to the withdrawal of her medication so explosively. It's not every young disaffected teenager that runs through empty landscapes because she is too scared to speak to anyone – for quite the reasons we see here. Not every family patches itself back together over a funeral in the fashion the third story gives us.

It's often been said that superhero comics are metaphors – Superman for the messiah complex, the X-men variably for either racism or the violent troubles and pubertal changes of teens, and so on. This collection of a round dozen self-contained novellas pack their punch by withdrawing from the genre formulae and showing us powered young Americans in their everyday settings.

So the young couple in the first story are dealing with heading off and leaving home for the horizon for the first time. We see a bruiser with a punch to pack learn which side his bread is really buttered. Something allows a unique message from beyond to cast an individual spell. There's something mystical, magical or bluntly odd about someone in all of these stories, but the whole ethos is to show this is normality impinged upon by something special, and the resulting success or disappointment that leads to.

It's a very obvious idea, really, that probably has been done before, but never to this standard. It picks on what we adults might tell our teenage children and friends – 'your mouth will get you in trouble', 'you don't know your own strength', 'remember these days, they're the best of your lives', 'be yourself!' – and shows the ultimate consequences if this is ever obeyed.

The black and white artwork is spot on, in whatever shape or form it takes. It can be exceedingly scratchy at times, and fits in to directing the mood of every piece perfectly, even by dropping to manga when needed. At other times it will go to humanising the in-car setting of the dialogue, or demolishing the background and having our characters exist in front of a white blankness. The shading when we get it is superlative too, until episode eight's cheap and nasty cut 'n' paste textures, and is generally a big contrast, even though we might never initially spot its presence, or relevance.

But Brian Wood's writing is of equally fine qualities. It's no mean feat to create a wordy episode, or a near-mute second story, and have all as finely judged. He turns his hand very well to grounding his oddnesses in reality, and I am sure this will speak to everyone.

One final question is to why this is called Demo? Does each story, fully self-contained as they are, serve as a demo of a new character someone else could absorb into a franchise output? It's conceivable – for most of them. It can't be to declare this as a calling card – this volume has had high praise from esteemed reviewers, and the young creators are already established. The volume never gets as unsubtle as openly demonstrating anything, it lets us in with small images to its singular worlds. I would have episode eleven down as the world's thickest-disguised vampire story.

So, can I see anyone not wanting to give this five stars? Well, with twelve stories, and with them all having their relevant special powers negated, denied, rebelled against until the idea is quietly dropped, I suppose one might reach the end crying out for more of a happy ending. But the book is superlative in the way it has taken a simple concept and run with it, and found such distinctive little tales to tell.

This is practically foremost now in my list of 'graphic novels for people who don't like graphic novels'. It's lovely to have such a work collected complete in one great value volume.

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Buy Demo: v. 1 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Demo: v. 1 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Demo: v. 1 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Demo: v. 1 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan at


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