With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week, we’re going to look at an early classic of a comics superstar.
The end of the world is going to come sooner or later. It’s definitely just a matter of how and when. In 2015, James Tynion IV, Eryk Donovan, Adam Guzowski, and Steve Wands began a trio of horrific “what ifs” — the Apocalypse trilogy. The thematic tryptic showed readers three different horrifying world-ending scenarios: Memetic, Cognetic, and Eugenic.
The trilogy was a hit. It still resonates today with a mixture of horror and science fiction which gnaws at the back of your head. And then bursts out in a mixture of blood and gore so the books can be passed onto the next person. So this week, we wanted to sit down with the first of three, Memetic.
It was just a normal morning when the “feels good sloth” meme began circulating around the world. No one knew where it came from or how to explain its euphoric effect on the human brain. However, twelve hours after seeing it, the world is horrified to discover that the meme becomes something much more horrifying…
Tony Thornley: So around the time Nice House on the Lake came out, I started checking out some of Tynion’s other work. Nice House just haunted me in a good way, and I wanted to read more. The first thing I came across was Memetic. After finishing it, I immediately picked up Cognetic and Eugenic and finished them over the course of a weekend.
Brendan Allen: Dude. I’m supposed to be the one bringing the weird little indies to this gig. Where the hell did you find this book?
Tony: No joke! I’ve been aware of this one since it came out, but I didn’t sit down with it until a couple months ago.
So one thing I really liked about this story is how Tynion grounded it in the characters and in the real world science of memetics. You feel for Aaron, Ryan, Marcus and the rest. The story (told in three oversized issues) is about the world falling apart across three days. And fall apart it does. The entire human race is … well … It all happens in three days but I won’t spoil exactly what it is.
And then the way it handles the memetic travel of information….
Brendan: A couple things really stick out to me. First, obviously, is how quickly information and disinformation is spread in our current global society, and how devastating that can be. I know this book isn’t about global pandemic, but there are a lot of themes that are so freakishly topical in this thing. There are a couple of spots that literally had the hairs standing up on my arms.
Tony: Oh no joke. This was written in 2015 but it was so incredibly timely. It feels like a horror version of Q Anon and anti-vaxxers (as if they weren’t already scary enough).
Brendan: There are also a lot of elements that remind me of other books, shows, and movies that I love. Lazaretto, The Ring, The Walking Dead, Analog… (I just realized we haven’t done Analog yet. We’ll have to remedy that soon.) I’m seriously wondering what took so long for anyone to recommend this book to me. Seriously folks. Let’s not let this happen again.
Tony: I knew it was exactly your speed when I finished it. Hell, that’s why I wrote up Cognetic instead of this one back in June. Cognetic is a lot more sci-fi. This one is just plain scary, and it gradually keeps building throughout the three issues.
Brendan: It’s really interesting that this is as old as it is, not just for the fact that it completely slipped under my radar. Going back to that idea that the best horror is the stuff that’s just five degrees to the left of reality, that’s where Memetic lives. It’s genuinely horrifying, and ridiculously topical in 2021.
Tony: I really liked Donovan’s line work. He’s a bit looser and cartoony in his figure work. As horrifying as what’s going on in the series is, his style helps keep it from getting too scary, so I was able to make it through it. But then that same style made the horror hit harder. When Aaron’s friend became the first screamer, it was a gut punch.
And then he attacks a friend, and Gozowski gets to use his first bright splash of red as the screamers start their reign of violence.
Brendan: The art reminds me a little of the work Jorge Corona did on Middlewest, by way of Andy MacDonald’s work on Rogue Planet. Slightly caricatured, but grounded enough in the real world to really freak you out when it goes sideways.
Tony: Yeah, it had just enough realism to be effective, but heightened enough that it wasn’t just pure gut-wrenching.
Every time the body horror started in this one, I got a knot in my stomach. They were so effective at the scares. It wasn’t even the body horror. When Sarah realizes she has less than an hour left before she loses her mind, and she has to get to her family, as Aaron realizes his best friend is doomed…
And Ryan’s final fate at the end of the second issue … Damn.
Brendan: Yeah, this is one of those stories where there really isn’t a clean, happy break for anyone in the end, isn’t it? There doesn’t need to be, and I think a lot of creators tend to forget that. It doesn’t always even make sense to have everyone in the story tie things up all neatly by the end. That never happens in real life. Messy is real, and this one gets real messy, real quick.
Tony: And that’s one thing the entire creative team does really well. The chaos ramps up through the script. There’s more signs of the world falling apart in the background, even as the horror happens in the foreground. The colors become muted in everything but the sloth…
It’s good stuff and it haunts you for a long while after. I read all three a little over three months ago, and before I reread the book for this week, I’d have panels pop into my head at random. It’s just so incredibly haunting.
Brendan: I can see that. There are so many clever reveals and quirky little memorable lines.
Tony: I think we also need to talk about that ending too — so spoilers after the image.
After the meme runs its course, it turns out that it was created by something otherworldly to prepare for its arrival on Earth … and in that last horrifying page, it does. That last page just freaked me the hell out. It’s gigantic, otherworldly, frightening … and the book ends. We don’t know what it is, what it was doing, or why it did what it did…
That probably has haunted me more than any other image from the series. It was the perfect way to end the series.
Brendan: Absolutely. Not to dip too far into spoiler territory, it’s a great twist. Nobody wins, and the direction it takes headed into that final reveal is nowhere close to what you’d expect from the beginning and middle of the story. I also love that it’s still not all wrapped up. There are a lot of directions it could go from that final image, and they leave it up to the reader’s imagination. Beautiful storytelling.
Tony: Yeah, I agree. This is one of those with an open ending that I don’t want to know what’s next. It’s definitely better ending at the precise moment it does.
So what did you think?
Brendan: This is probably the closest you’ve hit to my actual flavor of comics. It only took you, what, two years? Kidding. Not really, though. More like this.
Tony: Whatever, you’ve loved everything I’ve brought you. But this might be one of the best of the bunch. What’s up next?
Brendan: I mentioned Analog, by Gerry Duggan and David O’Sullivan. Let’s go ahead and pull the trigger on that one. Loads of thematic crossover with this one, but a completely different setup and execution.
Tony: I read the first couple issues when it came out, so it sounds like a lot of fun!
Memetic is available in print and digital editions from Boom! Studios.