The violence is more extreme and fantastical in this issue, as Rock faces off against some larger-than-life foes and has to use everything from his instincts to his teeth to survive. Grace’s art is gritty and raw, capturing the primal nature of the combatants and expertly showcasing their individual skills. There’s an especially wonderful panel that is dark, funny, and weirdly beautiful, as Rock is about to become the victim of a most impressive pile driver, and it is part of a spectacularly comical and gruesome fight. John Rauch delivers bright, bold colors that help set the fantasy-fueled, big-scale tone, and Russ Wooton’s lettering relays the internal and external struggles of the characters and their situations. Between brutal bouts, Rock waxes philosophical about belts and tries to dodge the tournament’s unsavory host, who has taken a special shine to our t-shirt-wearing hero. Freedman and Grace are clever, because even with this great, well-known genre setup, they add new and interesting layers. For example, you assume that the host of the tournament is into Rock because of what he’s packing below the belt, but, as the story progresses, it turns out there is more going on here than sexual attraction, and there is even more at stake than Rock’s life. Not to be left out of a fight, Rock’s loyal friends, Lex and Bear, provide some butt-kicking back-up, as well as some entertaining comic relief.
The rumble-filled story moves with a quick intensity, and the totally unexpected direction that Freedman and Grace take Burn the Orphanage is exciting and works with the growing mythos of Rock and the Born to Lose trilogy. At the start, Rock is trapped between himself and a hard place and to rouse him from his malaise, it takes an adventure with higher stakes than he ever imagined. This new challenge pushes him to his limits, physically, mentally, and, in his own stoic way, emotionally. Demons works on various levels, because it deals not only with the mystical, presenting us with characters who very well may be actual demons, but it deals with Rock’s own personal demons and makes us think about why we fight, what is worth fighting for, and if we can ever truly be the hero the world needs, or that we need for ourselves.