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MEMETIC #1 Review: A Truly Modern Horror Comic

With the genre kicked off of its pedestal in the ’50s with the twin menaces of Frederick Wertham and the Comics Code Authority, horror in comics has taken a backseat over the decades, resulting in a niche corner of the market that either transcends the genre altogether or becomes a perfect example of it. The mainstream comics market being what it is, sadly, it seemed like this cycle was doomed to repeat itself.

But in recent years, the disciples of Stephen King have begun working in comics, and they’ve produced some great results. Scott Snyder (Batman, American Vampire, Wytches) is the obvious frontrunner, but there are several others and James Tynion IV is at the top. A close collaborator of Snyder’s who’s logged time on both Talon and currently co-writing the weekly series Batman: Eternal, Tynion has lately branched out on his own with Boom!, writing an acclaimed monthly horror comic in The Woods with artist Michael Dialynas.

Now, with the help of sensational artist Eryk Donovan, Tynion has teamed up with Boom! again for the three-issue oversized miniseries Memetic. At 45 pages for $4.99, Memetic is not only an incredible value, but a brilliant rush of King-esque horror that is utterly fresh and of-the-moment, exploring what happens when memes turn deadly, and doing so in a completely absorbing way.

The Plot

A meme of a smiling sloth giving the thumbs up in front of a hypnotic swirl, dubbed the “Good Times Sloth” quickly becomes the most shared bit of information in the history of the planet. For no real reason, people of all nations and all kinds are utterly transfixed by the image. It makes them feel utterly euphoric. All the more shocking then, when, several hours after initial exposure, they begin crying blood and go mad. In just a few days, society crumbles.

Three days before the apocalypse, college student Aaron Sumner is sitting in his room, morose. He and his longtime high school boyfriend, Kyle, are currently on the outs. He’s been up all night freaking out and browsing the Internet to get his mind off of it. Suddenly, he comes across the Good Times Sloth on the front page of Reddit. but, being color-blind, he can’t quite see the big deal. Finally crashing, Aaron gets awoken in a few hours by his best friend, Sarah, who shows him the image too. It becomes all that her and the other students can talk about because it makes them “tingle with happiness.”

Elsewhere, former Military Intelligence head Marcus Shaw is shown the image by his neighbor. Since he’s going slowly blind, however, Shaw doesn’t fall for it. This makes him all the more suspicious when his neighbor goes insane. Similarly, Aaron becomes extremely on edge when a friend of his just suddenly oozes blood from his eyes and begins screaming during dinner.

As the world crashes around them, these two very different men have to come to grips with the chaos happening around them. But can they stay alive in a world where all communication is compromised and even the President isn’t immune? And where did the “Good Times Sloth” come from?

Courtesy: BOOM! Studios

Courtesy: BOOM! Studios

The Execution

The Story

Tynion, having worked on both the “Zero Year” storyline for Batman and on Batman: Eternal, knows how to work with big, world-altering events. Here, he dials up the apocalypse, but does so in an utterly modern, connected world. Although the art varies differently on this at points, Tynion makes prominent mention of Reddit, Instagram, etc. in the script and it feels completely authentic.

Similarly, the brief cameo by President Obama not only manages to nail the President’s professional aspects and mannerisms, it also feels completely organic to the story, rather than causing the story to feel dated in any way. This is our world as it is now, and in using real websites and real public figures, Tynion captures that perfectly.

But the biggest praise offered here is that while our two heroes are disabled–Shaw is again functionally blind while Aaron is both color-blind and wears a hearing aid–they’re not helpless. Their disability is just a part of who they are, something they have to contend with day-to-day, nothing more. Similarly, Aaron being gay isn’t there to make a point, it’s simply who he is. No more, no less. That refreshing ease towards his sexuality is another part of what makes this comic so modern. And what makes the horror feel so real.

The Art

The official solicitation from Boom! describes Eryk Donovan as a “fantastic newcomer,” with only one other series of his listed, The House In The Wall. While I’m not familiar with that work, I really want to check it out now because Donovan is absolutely astonishing. His artwork has all the cleanness of Adrian Alphona, but he can also dial-up terrifying faces and sights to dial Gil Kane at his scariest.

His linework, combined with the colors of Adam Guzowski, is eye-popping and very appealing. His character designs are relatable and compelling enough so that the reader gets sucked in just enough to make it even worse when all hell breaks loose. It’s wonderful stuff, and I really want to see him get more work.

As to the effectiveness of the “Good Times Sloth” itself, Donovan certainly makes it memorable. For several months on Twitter, that image has been circulating around and it is damn unsettling. Again, the combination of line work and colors (which I strongly suspect were rendered in 3D somehow) make for an eye-catching, if disturbing, image.

Final Thoughts

As another character says, the word “meme,” since its invention by Richard Dawkins in 1976, has become diluted. The most common use of the term is thought by many to mean “Photoshopped funny pictures of cats.” Here, Tynion and Donovan manage to bring some edge back to this misused term. More to the point, they manage to posit the question “What if a meme spread destruction worldwide?” very successfully.

Given Boom!’s first-look deal with 20th Century Fox and the sheer accessibility of this premise, this miniseries will almost certainly be optioned for a movie very soon. And like basically all modern horror films not made by James Wan, that movie will be terrible. I know $4.99 is a lot, but look at it as getting the good version of a story that will no doubt be ruined beyond belief. Get while the getting’s good.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

Memetic #1 is available in print and digitally on Comixology.

Cover image courtesy of Boom! Studios

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Categories: Comic Reviews

Author:Tom Speelman

A lifetime of reading comics and watching television has left Tom with an inexhaustible supply of pop culture knowledge from the obvious to the obscure. Rather than keep it all in his brain for use at parties, Tom turned to writing a few years ago to help him share that knowledge with as many people as are remotely interested. Tom writes for several websites including The Mary Sue, Strange Horizons, Loser City and others. For even further rambling, follow him on Twitter @tomtificate.

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3 Comments on “MEMETIC #1 Review: A Truly Modern Horror Comic”

  1. 10/22/2014 at 4:45 PM #

    Reblogged this on tomtificate and commented:
    A new comic from BOOM! Studios that’s a little like Stephen King’s Cell but more credible. It’s fun

  2. 10/22/2014 at 7:57 PM #

    Just picked this one up today! Can’t wait to read it. -t

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 5 Must-Read Comics of 2014 | Another Castle - 01/06/2015

    […] Studios is on top of the world. Between neat original books like Memetic and Lumberjanes as well as wonderful licensed books like Adventure Time and Peanuts, the publisher […]

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