Lately I’ve been covering a lot of teen-friendly webcomics, so it’s high time I showcase something for adults, and Jason Shiga’s Demon (which, at some points, is so adult it might qualify as NSFW, so be forewarned) is just the ticket. Shiga’s no newbie: he’s published several graphic novels, including the mind-bending Meanwhile, which my predecessor Ian Chipman called “just about the perfect kid-friendly initiation to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (no, really).” That particular brand of braininess is at play in Demon, too, just with more brain splatter and less ice cream. It begins with down-on-his-luck Jimmy Yee, who has checked into a hotel to off himself. But after writing his goodbye to the world and hanging himself from the ceiling fan, he wakes up in the same room.
After a few more unsuccessful suicide attempts, Jimmy wanders out of the hotel only to be hit by a truck. Will that do the trick? . . . Nope, he wakes up in a hospital, and soon a strange girl claiming to be his daughter arrives to take him home. Once “home,” he takes a look at his license to see an unfamiliar name and face, and makes a mad dash for his own home to get back to his original task, but before he can pull the trigger, the police arrive and book him for breaking and entering. So what’s going on here, exactly? Brilliant Jimmy, who has a genius capacity for mathematics and a photographic memory, figures it all out on the way to the police station.
Yes, Jimmy Yee is a demon, who, upon killing himself, can transfer his consciousness to whichever head is closest to his. Clever readers will notice in the opening scenes, for example, that after each suicide attempt, Jimmy wakes up in a different outfit. It’s only his head that swaps places, and while Jimmy can perceive his own face on each body, to everyone else, he resembles the original owner of the body. (A very helpful spread explains the whole process in detail.) Here’s where the brainy stuff I mentioned earlier comes in: Jimmy wants to know how this whole process works, so he undertakes a series of experiments and learns fascinating things about the difference between physical abilities and mental abilities.
Occupying the body of an athlete, for instance, doesn’t mean he immediately has increased physical strength, so he deduces the muscle power has just as much to do with mentality as it does brute strength. Similarly, “being drunk, tranquilized, asleep, in a coma, schizophrenic, and even colorblind are all apparently mental states,” he discovers. Ok, so that’s all the brainy stuff. What about the brain splatter I mentioned earlier? Oh yes, Jimmy Yee operates on cold, hard logic (with this exception of his love for his daughter, that is). When it comes to learning about his powers, he doesn’t think twice about murdering hundreds of people for his experiments, and when it occurs to him that he can use his skills to avenge the death of his wife and daughter, who were killed by a drunk driver, he becomes an unstoppable killing machine. A government agency tries to recruit him to promote global peace, but he’s got better things to do, like sleeping with big-name actresses and playing in the Superbowl.
Given that this is a comic about a man who kills himself with startling frequency, it should come as no surprise that there’s lots and lots of blood, gore, dismembered limbs, crushed skulls, and other assorted brutality, as well as one memorably off-color scene when Jimmy must find a way to do himself in while trapped in a cell, completely nude, with nothing but a scrap of toilet paper and his own bodily fluids at his disposal. Shiga’s blocky, simplistic figures look like they would be more at home in a picture book, which only makes the cartoon violence more shocking. But with a floaty, open layout and visually dynamic pacing, this smart, wry, and thoroughly engrossing comic is much, much more than merely a gorefest. Shiga takes a fairly simple premise and extrapolates it to consider the meaning of identity and the vast possibilities of Jimmy’s power. You’d be hard-pressed to find a superhero comic that considers the rules of its universe so intelligently as Shiga does here. Currently in its twelfth chapter, Demon updates every weekday.