Demo, Volume 2 #4

After a few issues with slightly more ambiguous premises, this is the first time that “Demo, Volume 2” harkens directly back to the original series’ (eventually somewhat discarded) premise of being a realistic imagining of people with strange powers and supernatural abilities. In the case of this issue, the lead character, Colin, discovers that he is a waterbreather.

As you can imagine, the results of this discovery are rather different to how we’ve seen this story play out in stories from other comics companies. Rather than being rescued by the X-Men, or joining The Initiative, Colin finds himself alone and confused, unsure whether his experience even happened. It takes a leap of faith for him to truly understand his new ability.

However, just as the power is a gift that saves his life, it also becomes a curse that he can’t escape from. As the story progresses through a revenge fantasy with unintended consequences, it becomes more and more difficult for Colin to breathe regular air at all. And all the time, it makes him feel more out of place, eventually forcing him to withdraw from the “real” world entirely, forcing him to make a final decision between life above the waves, and life below them.

It is, however, Cloonan’s artwork that transforms the story from a good one into a great one. Confident in their relationship, Wood is happy to pile the responsibility onto his collaborator in this issue, with numerous silent sequences, including an ambitious multi-page opening section. It takes a lot of sheer skill to draw underwater sequences without the visual shorthand of clue color gradients and computer distortion effects, and Cloonan steps up to the challenge confidently.

Through the issue, we find her illustrating in a variety of styles to give the water distinct character each time it appears. There’s no trickery here, just fantastic artwork. Although Cloonan’s style is far less chameleonic than the original “Demo,” she has replaced variety with proficiency, becoming a comic artist with absolute mastery of her craft. You don’t even need to look at the individual panels to see which parts are the ethereal, contemplative underwater pages, and which the chaotic fight scenes. It’s the kind of artwork you can study over and over, finding fresh nuance each time.

Four issues in, it’s clear that this series of “Demo” will prove a worthy successor to the original. It’s rare a comic this essential comes out in any month, so to be guaranteed at least two more — well, I’m looking forward to it.

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