In a month where Kim Kardashian’s prominent assets saw fit to purportedly “break the internet” - but really just led to a viral outbreak of stellar photoshopping - it is perhaps a no-more-fortuitous time for pop culture to address the ramifications of unchecked meme-ing. I mean, what if that image of KK’s “hey-hey” was somehow corrupted by, say, a neurological virus that made us eat each other? We’d all be super fucked right now, amirite? That’s what I like best about Memetic; its premise is a solid and terrifying one, and its first issue setup was really well done. Unfortunately, however, Memetic #2, while driving forward its world well with a few new narrative wrinkles, also relies too heavily on cuteness and cliché, which mars what could have otherwise been a significant sophomore build for the budding Boom series.
In terms of story, this issue sees Aaron and his boyfriend Ryan (who I’m now 100% certain are analogs of Welcome to Night Vale fan art) desperately seeking refuge from the meme-infected screamers (zombies), who have grown even more loud and legion since issue one. Simultaneously, the blind (and thus unaffected) Colonel Shaw and his colleague, Barbara, have put together a team of soldiers and scientists to nip the a-sloth-alypse in the bud. Both groups get a sense of the perilous inevitability of their situation after realizing that [SPOILER] the virus has evolved, verging from the initial medium of infection - the Good Times Sloth meme - into its secondary means of transmission, the siren song of the screamers.
The strengths of this issue come mostly from the tendons that hold the story together rather than the “meat” of the main cast, itself. Tynion and Donovan work together to paint a gut-churning, wider picture of how this world has been affected, not just in the scores of zombies tearing out the insides of others or attacking military installations, but with the pre-screaming infected trying to disseminate the meme, either by graffiti, by taking over and worshipping at evangelical churches, or via the threaded-in conversation of a phone call as someone’s loved one succumbs to the virus.
However, the closer we get to the nucleus around which Tynion bases his story, the more cliché it becomes. The colonel’s team, for example, could be swapped out for any standard zombie survivor group recipe: add one smart-ass scientist, a scoop of hard-ass military guy, a dash of shrinking violet, garnish with a disabled old dude, season to taste and serve lukewarm. I have similar misgivings in taste about Ryan and Aaron’s relationship.
I don’t mean to sound like a hard-heart here, but I’m not one of those “kawaii guys” who melts into a tearful puddle of affectation every time something emotionally saccharine happens in a story. In fact, I’m just the opposite, and while the kind of tragically-hip relationship enjoyed by Memetic’s main protagonist might burst the heads and hearts of tweens everywhere, I’m going on 34 years old and married. I wouldn’t call myself a relationship expert by any means, but I can certainly sniff out the disingenuous ones; i.e., those that rely on doe-eyes, gentle cheek caressing and other infantile public displays of affection. And it annoys me, because in my own personal life, I’ve grown past that and simply can’t relate.
Look, I don’t care if you’re gay, straight or a paraphiliac, if you want to make a relationship stand out and feel real, especially under the harrowing prospect of a world-ending apocalypse, have some damn grit to it, not just starry-eyed wonder, bed cuddles and tearful naked kisses. Save that shit for Dawson’s Creek, or whatever the kids are watching these days. Arrow, I guess? I get that it ends badly, but even that sickly star-crossed affair comes across as ham-fisted and playing up to an audience of the squee elite (squeelite?).
The fact is, and as funny as it may seem to ask of comic books, I need my relationships cast with a bit more depth and maturity than I am given here. On the plus side (and without spoiling anything), I’m glad what happens happens in this issue, because it will allow the story to move along with its honestly interesting premise, unfettered by maudlin and treacly purpose.
Another problem I had with Memetic #2 was with the main character’s “disabilities.” Making him color blind was a cool move in the first issue, but randomly throwing in that he [SPOILER] also wears a hearing aide, so that he won’t be lured in by the screamers, feels too coincidental. He also apparently has some kind of other disability that requires pharmaceuticals, just in case you didn’t feel bad enough for this character because he’s color blind, deaf and put-upon by society for being gay. It feels like Tynion is trying too hard to pander and make Aaron tragic, when his situation is tragic enough already.
Look, I know I’ve spent the better part of this review blasting Memetic #2, but I want to end on a high note. As a whole, the creators continue to paint a gruesome picture of this world, and I honestly still love it, particularly in their mixing of pleasure and pain, with Donovan’s art continuing to work really well in its off-putting cartoonish style; the way he shows people smiling sweetly as they bleed profusely from their eyes? Fantastic stuff.
I do think Donovan could stand to spend more time better fleshing out his background details and work on a few significant gaffs in perspective, but for the most part, his energetic style is a blessing to the book. If Tynion can now separate himself from trying to please millennial emo fans and focus on the painfully interesting world story he has set up, I’ll still be a Memetic fan. Otherwise, I’ll just have to admit this story isn’t for me, unplug and move along.
Writer: James Tynion IV Artist: Eryk Donovan Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $4.99 Release Date: 11/26/14 Format: Print/Digital