In “Cognetic” #1, James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan return to the psychic, apocalyptic subject matter that won “Memetic” so many fans. A body-hopping, mind-controlling intelligence aims to infect the human race, and it’s kicking off the invasion at the Empire State Building. Though the bulk of the issue is devoted to the main character, Tynion’s script still toys with plenty of big ideas, and Donovan’s art adds the perfect suggestion of something-is-very-off to otherwise mundane scenes. As weird and ambitious as their previous collaborations, “Cognetic” #1 is off to an intriguing start.
For all its many positives, “Cognetic” #1 does feel more measured. It’s slower to get started, and it didn’t feel particularly fresh or exciting until I was well into the story. Tynion and Donovan cover familiar territory in this one, and — while it’s great to see them offer another unique vision of apocalypse — it does mean they run the risk of feeling rehashed.
Still, there are advantages to this slower build. For the first quarter or so, Tynion takes time to luxuriate in his larger themes, riffing on human consciousness and collective effort with comparisons to animals, microbes and skyscrapers. A fisherman ruminates, “Can you even imagine?…Finished by something you never even thought existed” after catching a dolphin; another character asks, “Without a mind to run the show, what do you think all those little microbes [inside you] might get up to…?” This dialogue is pointedly, heartily on-the-nose — so obvious in its references the reader can’t help but find a campy humor in it. However, Tynion manages to be winking without shaving the edge off his commentary. Even if the delivery is funny, the larger reality of human smallness in the scope of the universe is still true. It makes for uniquely weird, uncomfortably amusing humor.
This effect is heightened — and in many places made possible — by Donovan’s knack for finding the trippy in the typical. He and colorist Juan Manuel Tumburus most often opt for deceptively unexciting scenes and colors; the cities and homes of “Cognetic” look incredibly typical. However, whether he’s drawing an old man on a bus or a crowd of tourists, Donovan builds suspense into the body language of so many characters. With his sketchier, more angular lines, the people in “Cognetic” look creepy long before they act that way. He even manages to make a prone dolphin look ready to pounce.
“Cognetic” #1 definitely begins to differentiate itself as it goes on. Tynion takes plenty of time to develop his main character, Annie, and her loving relationship with her wife and daughter. The creative team primarily uses texting, that popular modern twist on the comic book caption, to establish the characters’ voices and personalities. Letterer Steve Wands handles all that text with clean precision, and Tynion injects the messages with plenty of character. In addition, these scenes from Annie’s life alternate with scenes from the developing takeover, creating a nice cadence while reinforcing the otherwise average day.
Though I wonder what effect this more measured pace will have on a three-part miniseries, I’m still excited to see what the creative team is thinking in “Cognetic” #2. The combination of big ideas and well-drawn characters makes for a great read on many levels.