From the curious (and debauched) mind of Jason Shiga, known for high-concept graphic novels, comes Demon: a four-volume magnum opus about the unspeakable chaos that one indestructible man can unleash on the world—and the ridiculous body count he leaves behind.
Warning, part I: This series is very graphic and dark.
Warning, part II: This review will contain spoilers. Seriously.
Demon is a four volume series following Jimmy Yee, who cannot die. That is, when his body expires, his soul gets transported into the nearest available body. Each volume stands alone with a central conflict, but it fits best as one part of the overarching plot and obstacles Jimmy faces.
Shiga’s sparse, duotone illustrations fit the madcap chaos he instigates. And the cartoon-style juxtaposes the sheer gore and graphic nature of the story. Each volume opens up with “The Story So Far”, a one-page series of panels summarizing where we are. This clever mechanism also highlights some of the chaos, black comedy, and profane antics Jimmy has been up to.
Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga (First Second, 2016)
No matter how hard he tries, Jimmy Yee cannot die. A noose around his neck, a razor across his wrist, and even a bullet to his head all yield the same results: he awakes from each suicide attempt, miraculously unharmed, in his shabby room at the Sunbeam Motel. Has he gone mad? Or has he truly died and found himself in hell?
Demon, Volume 1 draws you in with confusion—an unnamed character commits suicide over and over again in a motel room, growing increasingly frustrated every time it seems to fail. We see the world through his eyes, and when he comes upon his own headless corpse, he begins to wonder why he doesn’t seem to die.
Volume 1 deals exclusively with Jimmy figuring out he’s a demon and introducing our main adversary—Detective Hunter with the OSS. Hunter wants Jimmy to work for the OSS, but Jimmy figures he’ll either be dissected as an experiment or forced to commit assassinations for the secretive government organization. Jimmy decides to break out of the prison the OSS has placed him in. He foreshadows his plans: “It’s funny. 24 hours ago I just wanted to die. Still do I suppose. There is one thing I want to take care of before I go. I’d given up hope of it every happening. But anything can happen no that I’m a demon.” Volume 1 ends with Jimmy escaping from the OSS prison in a very, er, creative way: a cum knife.
I initially felt this first volume was a little short, barely getting into the meat of the story. Then I saw all four volumes were approximately the same length and I began to appreciate the pacing. There is a certain respite from all the gore that separate volumes allow. I think this level of debauchery and gore would not work with a more detailed or realistic illustration style. Part of what makes this zany story work so well is the offhanded way it deals with death, murder, and violence.
Demon, Volume 2 by Jason Shiga (First Second, Feb 2017)
The OSS is after Jimmy, and they’re planning on using his daughter to catch him. But Jimmy will tear the world apart to keep his daughter safe. Literally. This morally bankrupt immortal freak of nature has absolutely no concern for the well-being of any human being besides himself and his Sweetpea. It’d be adorable if it weren’t so scary.
Demon, Volume 2 begins with the OSS profiling Jimmy: but he is dull, never had ambitions, never registered to vote, all his family is deceased, and he has no interests or hobbies. Through their profile, we learn that his wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver just a month ago.
Jimmy is trying to keep a low profile as he attempts to learn all he can about Demonism. “I’f I’m going to pull this off successfully, I’ll need to know everything there is to know about my condition. Careful observation paired with rigorous experimentation is the key. Once I’ve fully understood demonism inside and out, I’ll go for it.”
At this point, we still don’t know his long-term plan. Why did he try to rob the bank in the first volume? We know the bank robbery went wrong and a person died. Jimmy decided to commit suicide at that point, abandoning his original (unknown) plan. Jimmy begins to wonder where his powers originated from, assessing his own childhood. He begins to wonder if it’s hereditary, but both his parents are dead.
An entire chapter follows Jimmy’s various incarnations—learning that his lack of artistic or musical talent also comes with him, even if he possesses an artist or musician. He possesses a bodybuilder and still can barely bench press any weight. He possesses a dyslexic third grader and can still do complex math problems. “These experiments are telling me as much about the mind-body boundary as they are about my powers.”
In a flashback we learn Jimmy’s reasoning behind the bank robbery and suicide. He wanted to get revenge on the truck driver who killed his wife and daughter. The driver has had the mental capacity of a third grader since the accident and is in a specific prison. To get access, he was going to rob the bank and get sent to the same prison, but the robbery went wrong. The security guard fired at Jimmy, missed, and killed the teller. When the plan went south, Jimmy realized we wasn’t going to get sent to the low security prison, and decided to kill himself.
But now, with a new lease on life as it were, Jimmy concocts a new plan to get revenge on the truck driver. He possesses the driver’s uncle in order to visit him in prison. But when Jimmy is waiting for the driver to be brought to visitation, his daughter shows up instead—Sweetpea is also a demon. This is an interesting case where they can see each other’s faces because of the demonism, but other people see the face of their host, the person they are possessing. For us, it’s a very handy part of the possession as we can always tell who Jimmy and Sweetpea are.
Unfortunately, Hunter and the OSS had predicted Jimmy would come for revenge on the truck driver and are all in place. Jimmy manages to escape by possessing Denny, Hunter’s second in command, but Sweetpea is still captured.
The second half of Volume 2 involves Jimmy and Hunter trying to outmaneuver each other. When Jimmy and Sweetpea are finally captured, Hunter still wants Jimmy to work for the OSS. We then learn the backstory behind demonization, the flastical organ that essentially contains the soul, and Project Azazel. The intent was to avoid casualties of war by having US demon-agents simply possess global enemies. Jimmy agrees to work for the OSS, but then double-crosses them and fires a missile into the “secret” base. Hunter, attempting the 25-step exit protocol with DNA checks, random questions, and even rubix cubes, is assumed to be dead. The volume ends with Jimmy calling Sweetpea to wish her a happy 100th birthday.
It started to feel tedious as both Jimmy and the OSS try to out-maneuver each other in increasingly absurd ways. It also felt like the backstory about demons was a bit of an info-dump, but I think that’s mainly because Shiga’s style had used dialogue sparingly.
Demon, Volume 3 by Jason Shiga (First Second, July 2017)
With his demon powers, nothing is denied Jimmy Yee. Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll—that’s just for amateurs. He’s experienced every earthly pleasure known to man, and even invented a few of his own. Confident that he and his daughter Sweetpea have outlived all of the their enemies, Jimmy spends his day reveling in his immortality. But after 250 years, immortality is getting a little dull.
The third volume opens with Jimmy and Sweetpea living a normal(ish) life, but Jimmy is bored and wants answers. He reaches out to the original creator of Project Azazel, Dr. Gellman. Unfortunately, Gellman just wants it to end. The only way to kill a demon for good is have another demon be the closest one to them so possession cannot take place. Jimmy, now without answers and still bored, goes on a series of increasingly ridiculous escapades and debauchery.
Without a main adversary, the narrative feels a bit directionless. So it’s not surprising when Hunter reappears, even though it’s been 200+ years, as a demon. The second half of this volume is just one long drawn out chase scene between Hunter and Jimmy, constantly dying and possessing new hosts as they have car chases, knife fights, and gun battles across the city.
Volume 3 concludes with Hunter catching Sweetpea, telling her Jimmy is dead, and then killing Sweetpea. But really, you should know by now that it is very difficult to kill a demon.
Demon, Volume 4 by Jason Shiga (First Second, Nov 2017)
Immortal actuary Jimmy makes a startling discovery: Agent Hunter, his long-dead adversary, is actually alive and a demon himself! Hunter has spent the last century concocting a deadly trap for his nemesis, and he has the perfect bait: Jimmy’s daughter, Sweetpea. In the epic showdown to to end all epic showdowns, we finally reach the thrilling conclusion to this madcap series.
Volume 4 is the conclusion to Demon, and I was very curious how Shiga was going to wrap-up this long-winded battle between Jimmy and the OSS. We left the story with Jimmy as a fetus and Sweetpea’s corpse draining blood into a vat as Hunter watches.
Hunter has a huge castle, not only designed to keep Jimmy out, but also to keep Sweetpea in. One of the confounding things is that Hunter keeps telling Jimmy and Sweetpea his plans or bragging about his forethought in designing the fortress. You think Hunter would learn that telling prisoners information is going to backfire.
The outer wall has prisoners chained up at regular intervals, the outer yard is populated by one-legged ex-Navy Seals who bludgeon anyone of their companions that falls over, the inner yard is the largest gathering of conjoined twins, and then there are Israeli commandos stationed on every level of the castle. Hunter has also been using the adjacent lab to create a demon army. Although none of thise seems to matter since at the end of Volume 3, Hunter shot Sweetpea as her blood drained out to be used to create more OSS demons.
Volume 4 opens with the disturbing imagery of Jimmy being (re)born, literally. We then have a series of flashbacks that set up the final showdown, including more postulating about the way demonism works. We learned in Volume 2 that memories and identity is stored in an organ called the flastical, which rests above the brain in the fourth dimension—the spacial dimsion to the universe.
The Project Azazel scientist, Dr. Gelman, the first manufactured demon, also foreshadowed in Volume 3 that he had answers: about the ring they see when they make a possession, how to make a possession without killing yourself, and how to make duplicates. Jimmy also figured out that every time you make a possession, the universe splits off into one here the attempt to kill yourself failed—an important point to remember if we’re learning to make more demons without using the blood science of Project Azazel. Sweetpea’s brilliant breakthrough about how to make duplicates is key to the conclusion of the series.
Of course, they could have left well enough alone. Hunter thinks they’re dead, but he only killed a duplicate version. But it isn’t enough for Jimmy or Sweetpea; they decide they can’t let Hunter’s worldwide coup take place. So they mount an attack. With hundreds of duplicate Jimmys and Sweetpeas in reserve, they begin training to overtake the castle, including how to walk with one leg, fighting as conjoined twins, and all manner of weapons. The battle is over the top, gory, and violent—and I wouldn’t expect anything less. They descend upon the castle Mad Max style, ending in a stand-off between Jimmy and Hunter in a scene oddly reminiscent of Monty Python’s Black Knight. With a twist I didn’t see coming (and the help of Siri) Jimmy and Sweetpea blow up Hunter’s castle. The final scenes with Jimmy and Sweetpea wondering about mortality and humanity (now that everyone is a demon) are a bit philosophical and just vague enough to leave the reader hopeful, curious, and generally satisfied.