It’s the end of the world one more time. Do you feel fine? If you see Good Times Sloth, you just might as you scream and bleed from your eyes.
At least, that’s the conceit behind Memetic, the three issue miniseries by James Tynion IV and Eryk Donovan about the end of the world being triggered by a meme of a sloth giving a thumbs up. Exploring meme theory and how the dispersion of ideas has sped up in the internet age, the miniseries moves as fast as the image does, but it leads to a rather fresh take on the traditional apocalypse story.
The comic follows two major characters over the course of four days as the world falls down. The first is Aaron, a college aged gay man, who is color blind and deaf and manages to avoid the effects of the sloth meme. The second is Marcus Shaw, a retired colonel with macular degeneration, who realizes that the meme is related to a theory of weaponized memetics he came across in 1996. Right away, having two protagonists with disabilities that don’t fall into the Straight White Guy Savior roles puts an interesting spin on the usual survivor tropes in these kind of situations.
Out of the two major plotlines, most of the emotional investment falls into Aaron’s story. As he tries to survive and find shelter with his boyfriend Ryan, the apocalypse becomes a literal representation of his own feelings of isolation and being an outsider. It seems like the whole world is falling prey to the sloth, but he feels nothing about it in the slightest. It makes his story intimately relatable even though one might not be in his shoes exactly. Well, the isolation part, not the end of the world via memes part. The whole story is well-crafted, but Tynion’s strengths as a writer really come through with Aaron.
Shaw’s plotline plays out like a typical military task force at the end of the world plot, but the extra layer of avoiding an image adds an extra layer of stakes to their mission, especially when the meme starts to evolve to an aural level. Plus the team Shaw and his old colleague Barbara Xiang manage to cobble together out of who’s left in Washington are just so likable that they become a fun cross section between the military task force and the ragtag group of survivors. It makes the weight of their own losses so much worse as the book goes into its conclusion. At least, Shaw is there to set the record straight to his new colleagues about how macular degeneration really works.
As previously mentioned, the book moves really fast, especially into the conclusion that really gives no answers about what’s going on. Judging by the discussion between Tynion and Donovan in the backmatter of the book (which is cleverly presented as an IM conversation), this was deliberate to represent unknown and uncertain futures. Even with that in mind reading over it, it’s still this complete confusing mindwarp with no real answers. That’s probably for the best, all things considered. Still, this is where Donovan’s expressive and visceral art and Adam Guzowski’s searing colors really come into play, reaching their peak as the characters, and the reader realizes what’s going to happen. It’s mindboggling, but heartwrenching all at once.
Even with its breakneck pace and mindbending ending, Memetic is an engaging read. While playing with some familiar tropes to genre, Tynion and Donovan’s modern spin and interesting characters make it one of the freshest apocalypse stories to come around in recent memory. Just don’t fall prey to that well-crafted sloth.