There are dark stories. And then there are dark stories. And then there’s this. In the second issue of Demo’s second volume, Wood and Cloonan take the twisted side of the series further than it has ever been in a story about love and cannibalism entitled “Pangs.”
The issue sees a nameless protagonist cursed with the inability to eat anything except human flesh. Demo’s “supernatural” side got less and less prominent throughout the original series, and that trend has continued into the second volume -- it’s fairly ambiguous as to whether there’s any supernatural element on display here at all. Instead, the story is more concerned with what happens when someone feels the need to make changes in their life in order to become more attractive to a love interest. On that level, “Pangs” covers a topic that we’re all familiar with, whether from living it, or recognizing it in others.
That said, the issue’s most affecting moments are seen when it turns its attention to the raw physicality of eating. For most people, eating is a natural and largely enjoyable act. Here, though, it has become something corrupt and repulsive. As the protagonist’s co-workers discuss their lunches, it becomes clear that the physical effects of trying to eat something besides human flesh aren’t the only problem. Food, in general, is a party that the protagonist simply isn’t invited to, and that makes the world an oppressive place, forcing him further inside himself.
The artistic techniques perfectly reflect the highly ordered routine the protagonist has created. Every page is composed of organised, box-like panels, except when it becomes time to kill, at which point the layouts become drunk and vertiginous. At the same time, the contrast is heightened, creating a stark picture that reflects the perverted morality on display. For that two-page spread alone, the protagonist is allowed to unleash his inner demons, before it’s back to a world of restraint and orchestrated certainty. A lesser artist might have struggled with the effect, but not Cloonan, whose polymorphic abilities continually reach new heights.
Although the story works fine on a superficial level -- a horror tale with a devious twist at the end -- there’s also much more to it. For me, the story is about the way you can find yourself boxed in by your attitudes and habits. The protagonist here wants to break the cycle of killing and feasting, because he’s found something new and unfamiliar that he wants to connect with -- a co-worker he wants to date -- but that won’t fit into his current life, and it’s hard for him to leave the safety of what works.
So hard, in fact, that he might not be able to do it. And the “solution” he reaches has the potential to literally consume him. It can’t last forever, but perhaps it can last long enough that he’ll end up with a partner in crime, or a new victim, or someone who can end his spree one way or the other. It’s both the curse and strength of "Demo," as a series, that we’ll never know for sure how things turn out for the characters in this comic.
Although the industry at large might be obsessed with collections and crossovers, Wood and Cloonan are content to produce a perfect, self-contained single-issue story that makes its point and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The results are far better, and far more re-readable than virtually anything else on the shelves. If you love comics, you will love "Demo." It’s that simple.