Taking the idea of society’s love affair with social media and giving it a little shove, James Tynion IV conjures up a nightmarish scenario that doesn’t seem all that far from reality in “Memetic” #1. The first of three extra-long issues in this mini-series, drawn by Eryk Donovan, introduces the notion of a viral meme that takes over the internet within a matter of hours. But unlike real-life, timewasting devices like countless images of Grumpy Cat or sneezing panda videos, the image file of a psychedelic sloth in Tynion’s story induces more than just a kind of lazy, passive addiction; it instead evokes a whole different level of obsession with those who gaze upon it, leading to far more devastating consequences later on that gives this issue compelling level of intensity.
Tynion doesn’t come across as preaching against the potential life-sucking draw of the internet’s vast wasteland, if that even was his intent. Instead, his story seems more like a straightforward, logical extrapolation of where a culture hooked on social media could be headed after a push in a somewhat unexpected direction. The highly addictive meme that serves as his story’s catalyst and brings the lives of half a billion people to a standstill isn’t all that big a stretch to anyone who has found themselves spending an entire evening watching YouTube videos after innocently clicking on that one link. If there’s any message to be inferred at all, perhaps it’s as a cautionary tale of how easy it can be to be consumed by a virtual universe filled with meaninglessness at the expense of what truly matters.
Donovan takes a conservative, no-frills approach to the art, which suits a story that outwardly seems to feature little more than a lot of people glued to their smartphones, or talking/emailing/instant-messaging regarding the same. There’s far more to it, of course, especially near the end, but his simple and traditional layouts do exactly what’s needed: bring Tynion’s story to life without distracting from it. When things start to whack out, Donovan conveys that, too; a bit sensationalized at times, but also understated when necessary. When a well-known political figure acts out of character, Donovan cuts away at the perfect moment.
Flash-forwards have become a common storytelling trick in most media, but its use here serves as more of a spoiler than an enhancement. Tynion has already crafted an impressively catchy idea that would have captivated on its own as it was unveiled, so the peek a couple of days into the future, and as early as the story’s second page, isn’t really necessary as a hook. It’s a surprise, sure, but it telegraphs, at least apparently, just how far the consequences of the events in this issue reach. It’s possible that Tynion could pull another virtual rabbit, or sloth, out of a hat during the course of the remaining two issues, but the simple premise established in this one is already enough to carry the story.
“Memetic” #1 has a kind of creepy, modern-day “Outer Limits” feel, and is especially unnerving because Tynion recognizes that the scariest threats are the ones that are closest. It’s a great start to a story that benefits from its extra length, giving readers something beyond a taste that makes them want more, not unlike that psychedelic sloth contained within.