blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Demonic (2016-17)


Demonic has enough ideas in it for another twelve issues. Writer Christopher Sebela has six issues and he pretty much gives every couple issues their own subplot. But that subplot is distinct not because of its content but because of how Sebela writes it, how artist Nico Walter visualizes it, or a combination of the two.

For instance, the first couple issues are about a cop and his demon, with a whole bunch of exposition from every single person in the issues. Everyone does an information dump every time they show up. Except Walter’s got this fast, rough pace and he keeps it going. While Sebela’s banter between protagonist Scott and the various women in his life–whether its his wife, partner, or internal demon–it’s always lame. Sebela seems to think Scott’s charming when he’s really just kind of annoying, which helps. Not caring about the protagonist too much when the writing is bumpy isn’t a bad thing, because then you fall back on the art and Walter delivers.

Demonic is a crazy book. The first couple issues look like a strange Cloak and Dagger take, with Scott’s vigilante gear basically Cloak but with Freddy Krueger gloves. And his demon is a busty blonde, at least until he feeds her enough souls and then she gets a scarier form. The first issue is so beautifully paced–even though Sebela is exposition heavy, Walter makes all that information dumping work–and the rest of the comic is just watching how Walter is going to handle the next thing and the next thing.

So after it’s Scott and his demon, it’s Scott the cop trying to bring down the cult who raised him and put a demon inside him (there aren’t any Rosemary’s Baby references, which is kind of disappointing, actually). Walter does great stuff with the investigating, counting little visual devices through from the first couple issues, just using them in different ways. Demonic develops visually, which is cool. Walter never disappoints. It’s always visceral, always affecting.

The last bit is a showdown with the cult. There’s other stuff, bringing back the demon–now no longer a busty blonde but a Gigeresque winged she-devil–resolving the subplot with the family, which gets a lot of initial attention but then just becomes a place for Sebela to do the same character development scenes over and over again.

It’s a cool book to read because of what Walter does with the art, but Demonic is decidedly pedestrian otherwise. Sebela can’t write villains–he couldn’t write that banter–he does a little better with the cult flashbacks, but he abandons them right after setting them up. He’s got zero insight into his protagonist, cult-surviving cop turned demonically fueled vigilante and bad husband Scott. Everyone else–except the wife, who has no character whatsoever even though she’s supposedly Scott’s confidant (there’s first person narration for a bit)–but everyone else gets these kitchen sink back stories in order to always give them something to do. So they can always be active.

It’s annoying as hell, frankly. Sebela isn’t interested in his characters, he’s interested in his plot, but he’s also interested in facilitating Walter’s art. There’s a certain mercenary selflessness to Sebela’s script, which is work for hire. Robert Kirkman and Mark Silvestri created Demonic, not Sebela and Walter. Crazy good art to get out of someone when it’s not their property.

Does the plot get Demonic through the six issues? Well, it definitely could’ve run five. Especially given how Sebela and Walter show off their summarization skills in the first issue. It doesn’t need six. Most of protagonist Scott’s stuff in the last couple issue is just being a bad family man, but in ways his wife just can’t understand are for her benefit. Lame character turns are worse than no character turns at all, but it fills the pages so Sebela goes for it.

The protagonist’s partner is a lazy device more than a character. There was an affair, but it’s now forgotten even though she still wants to make fun of the wife–because no one in Demonic is actually nice enough to care about. So she’s around to play a morality card, which Sebela never integrates well. There’s no question about Scott the vigilante’s morality. Sebela doesn’t chicken out of asking, it doesn’t even occur to him. It’s like everyone was waiting for a demonically powered Batman-type to appear.

Because they are. Because evil cults and science demons or whatever. The stuff Sebela never gets around to explaining. He overdoes every other explanation but never does the ones potentially interesting one. The cop stuff is background, which is actually a problem, but it still eventually gets smoothed out in exposition. Or Sebela’s equivalent of smoothing out in exposition. He’s not particularly good at it.

And talking heads isn’t Walter’s thing. He rushes to get through them. He needs movement. So, while Walter saves Demonic, he doesn’t really save Sebela’s writing. Not a lot of synchronicity on this one.

By the end, after Demonic has gotten more obvious than it needed to get, the book feels a little too light. Good ideas weakly executed. Bad ideas weakly executed too. The villain is incredibly lame. And the absence of the protagonist’s demon just causes more problems then having her absent solves. Demonic is rushed. Sebela does get a lot in, but it’s still overpacked and he’s still missing better opportunities along the way. It’s overwhelming how much ground situation there needs to be to get anything to make sense. None of the reveals are simple, but none of them are insightful or worthwhile either. Because there’s no one to care about. Not even the kid, because she’s basically being protected by a demon so she’s safe.

But it’s all about Walter’s art. The art’s where Demonic succeeds.

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