If you’ve been anywhere near Tumblr lately, you’ll probably been exasperated by the “crave that mineral” meme that has inexplicably and rapidly went viral, to the point where even luxury brands like Tiffany’s and Mercedes-Benz were referencing it on their social media accounts. It’s not the first meme to gain traction and it won’t be the last, but it felt particularly relevant as I caught up on Memetic, a three-part comic series published by BOOM! Studios.
Memetic, created and written by James Tynion IV (Batman, Batman Eternal), also features an animal-based image (a sloth) slowly taking over the internet. People go into a frenzy over it, as they often do with internet memes, but things take a sinister turn when said frenzy involves homicidal zombification.
I wrote a review of Memetic #3 (the final part of the mini-series) for Word of the Nerd — you can find it here, and I’ve also cross-posted it below.
Horror stories usually end in one of two ways: badly (i.e. everyone dies) or with the day narrowly won at great cost, and a final hint that the threat may soon be back to haunt the few remaining survivors. As I caught up to the first two issues of Memetic — a comic mini-series from BOOM! Studios , his terrifying comic about a weaponized Internet meme that turns people into violently homicidal zombies — I wasn’t sure what route James Tynion IV would take with the third and final issue.
The suspense builds throughout Memetic #3 as we follow our two main protagonists; one being Marcus, a blind military vet who is trying to locate the source of the sloth image which has turned most of the human population into mindless “screamers”. Marcus’s macular degeneration had protected him from the initial effects of the hypnotic sloth, but his team realised in issue #2 that the “virus” has evolved to spread by sound as well – through the “song” of the screamers. So Marcus has 12 hours to save himself, as well as the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, the plan doesn’t work. The mysterious man behind it all is just a vessel, it turns out… for aliens. Yes, this comic just went there — the “aliens did it!” route. Interestingly, our mysterious messenger sounds a lot like a religious fanatic as he raves about how this was always the end point of humanity: “instantaneous, unlimited, knowledge singularity”. Humans were apparently created by aliens, he implies, for this implicit purpose — or maybe our evolution has just been nudged along these millions of years by these same “angels”.
The man then kills himself, destroying any hope of a cure. But given that at this point of the comic, humans beings are throwing themselves naked on top of each other to form skyscraper-tall people towers…it seems unlikely that a single man holding having the answer, even if he was the one who enabled the “end of the world” in the first place.
Meanwhile, colour-blind and hearing-impaired Aaron, reeling from the suicide of his boyfriend (who chose to die on his own terms, rather than turn into a screamer), doesn’t fare better. He answers a call for help from an abandoned little girl, only to watch helplessly as she falls prey to the siren song of the screamers.
Aaron, like many teenagers (and many adults), has always felt like an outsider, and as he watches his fellow human beings forming mindless hordes, he makes a shocking decision: to strip down, and dive into the masses (er, literally).
Is it a decision to be a part of humanity (even if “humanity” seems a debased state at this point), or is it a loss of hope? Aaron, for his part, seems to find some kind of twisted peace as he too is absorbed and sucked in. “I wanna be part of the human race” goes a lyric from one of my favourite Radiohead songs, The Bends, and it feels particularly relevant to Aaron.
There is only one “untainted” person left in the comic that we know of: Barbara, a member of Marcus’s team who stayed behind just in case (in proximity of nuclear codes, a passing line notes). She’s the only one left to watch as, on the last page, monstrous chthulu-type creatures descend from the skies, reaching towards the human towers… which seem to be reaching back.
Does it all indeed end with the bang of nuclear weapons, or does Homo sapiens enter a new, unfathomable stage of evolution? That’s for each of us to decide for ourselves, it seems. Accordingly, appended to the back of the issue are a few pages of thought-provoking discussion by Tynion and artist Eryk Donovan, designed in the style of a chat window.
As they note, Memetic is a meditation on very current and relevant topics. We live in a world that is more connected than ever, but even as we are more connected, are we in fact connecting less? In a world of Tumblr memes and Twitter trends, are we either doomed to become a part of the internet-consuming masses, or to be left out? Is the only way to retain your individuality, like Barbara, to completely cut yourself off? Will our greater virtual connectivity be humanity’s downfall, ultimately?
None of these are new concerns, necessarily, but with Memetic #3, James Tynion and Eryk Donovan close out a very potent distillation of the topic. Using the conceit of a horror comic throws everything into sharp relief, with no small amount of blood and gore. Eryk Donovan’s stark illustrations don’t pull any punches, either, whether he’s depicting the fear and hopelessness of Aaron and Barbara or a blind old lady, or the queasy sight of human skin towers all over the world.
Overall, Memetic #3 makes for a nihilistic take on the contemporary social media paradigm, much like it’s preceding two issues, but nonetheless a very fascinating and thought-provoking one. Anyone looking for a solid resolution will be disappointed, but that would be missing the point of this comic. The best horror stories are the ones that can tap into the beating pulse of society and turn everyday issues into something truly terrifying — and with this conclusion to the Memetic mini-series, Tynion and Donovan have accomplished just that.