It’s a strange business, reviewing things that you haven’t finished—generally I try not to do it, because after all, how can you judge a story when the story isn’t done with being told? However, sometimes the amount of beauty and intrigue in a work is not balanced by its update schedule, and you find yourself not wanting to wait years more to talk about it. And that is how I find myself peering into the swirling, fiery galactic pool of wonderment and bizarreness that is Ava’s Demon… or at least, it’s first seventeen chapters or so.
Michelle Czajkowski’s webcomic throws you (or at least, me) for a loop by promising ‘demons’ in the title and then landing its protagonists in space. Not to say, of course, that something we would name ‘demons’ cannot exist in space—it’s an artful blurring of the lines between fantasy and sci-fi, juxtaposing an ancient, magical-looking alien race and their sorcery against a blue-screens-and-white-panelling technological powerhouse. And caught in the middle of it is an ordinary girl named Ava, or at least, as ordinary as you can be when you appear to have a malicious, fiery spirit whispering threats and discouragements over your shoulder, and have done for your entire life.
Our first visual cue at this strange place where we are between the technological and the fantastical is Ava sitting in the principal’s office, surrounded by blue screens covered in text and propaganda, their glow somehow more eerie than the smoky ghost that only Ava seems able to see. Her getting-in-trouble is interrupted by the appearance of two classmates, the stuttering and mysterious Odin and the feisty Maggie, and an alien invasion. Before she knows what’s really going on, everything is going to Hell in a handbag and Ava is chasing Odin and an unconscious “rescued” Maggie to a spaceship, which escapes to the atmosphere before the planet is destroyed.
And so it is that Ava finds herself trapped in space, and soon crash-landed on a strange new world, with her ex-best friend, this new dark stranger who somehow knew there was trouble ahead, and her not-so-friendly shoulder ghost. In the process of crash-landing, though, they get much better acquainted when Ava dies, leaving her suspended in a ghostly state where she speaks to her ‘demon’ directly for the first time. She learns that said demon is Wrathia, the queen of an alien race who refused to be defeated by the conquest of the aforementioned technological warlord, Titan. Or, their planet was defeated, but Wrathia wouldn’t stand for Titan having the last word—so she and a group of her most trusted warriors and companions basically committed ritual suicide and ensured they’d come back to life in a different form, to return and kick his shiny ass.
It backfired, though, when Wrathia found her soul attached to baby Ava’s, only able to be freed to get on with things if Ava a) died, letting Wrathia bugger off to find a better host, or b) made a ‘contract’ with her, unlocking a strange new magical bond and powers between them. Reluctantly, but unable to resist a second chance at what has been a haunted, crappy life, Ava contracts with Wrathia, and finds herself tasked to gather Wrathia’s army. Ava looks like she’s severely gotten the short end of the stick here, but with a newfound resilience and tough nature (that’s hugely endearing and satisfying, considering what she’s been through, what with a manipulative, scary ghost hanging over her head all her life) sets her out on her quest to get off the new planet and find some other demons and the people they’re attached to. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, she may not have to look very far…
This premise is blooming with intrigue, and the gorgeous, lavish art that carries the story along is setting up a vivid and interesting world. Titan is clearly some sort of Big Bad figure, though he’s cleverly shown as both the figurehead for a monopolising ultra-corporation that’s clearly bad news, and also an evangelical figure of hope. Is he a god, or just an ordinary man who used bulldozer tactics to pave a new galaxy where he’s worshipped as one? He’s certainly a contrast to Wrathia; faceless, stalwart and cold versus her expressive, emotional and literally volcanic personality and appearance. Is one of them really less frightening than the other? Well, in Ava’s case, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t…
As always with Faustian contract stories, the act of contracting a demon (or something akin to one, in space) is always a fascinating way to reveal character. We have, so far, seen one other human-demon duo who have fully formed a contract, and their interactions (complete with the dreamworld in which they communicate, lush forest in place of Wrathia and Ava’s magma pit) open colossal doors into both understanding of their characters and the rules that this universe works on. Two other demons have made themselves known, both appearing in very different ways that, again, have begun to further weave the colourful tapestry of the series’ worldbuilding.
Given that each demon seems to represent a Deadly Sin (Wrathia being wrath, naturally; Nevy being envy; Tuls being lust, or ‘slut’ depending on how you do your anagrams; and Pedri being pride) there are sure to be at least seven of the fellows. Will the series get bogged down with so many major characters? Only time will tell. The characters that have been introduced, so far, retain a decent balance, though of course many mysteries still abound. What happened to cause the rift between Ava and Maggie? Who’s hunting Odin down? Is Gil being cheated by the system he’s believed in all his life? What’s the deal with Titan and his futuristic society? Is that space weed you’re smoking, guys??
The pacing can be stifling at times, but the artistic quality of the panels is astounding—again, it creates the atmosphere of the world so well, using recurring colours and patterns to create yet more intrigue, creating wildly different sensations of place and personality with the use of tone and texture. Wrathia’s dreamworld feels hot, Titan’s planets feel cold and clinical and edged with worry, and the galaxy goop and other fun additions to Ava’s post-contract body have a weight to them that makes you want to wince and stare at the same time.
Again, it’s difficult to make any judgement calls about this comic, given that it’s really still only in the first act or so of its story. But it has potential, and is fascinating to look at and look into, if you can stand to wait through the sporadic and short-lived updating schedule. Not that I’m complaining, though—art takes time to create, guys. That being said, the best method of reading is forgetting about it for a while, then coming back and zooming through the pile of updates so you can get more deeply immersed in the weird and wonderful space-magic.