Meta4 #1

By Ted McKeever
24 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

When you have a new comic from Ted McKeever, just about the only thing that’s certain is that you’re going to have a bit of oddness. That’s a good thing, in my book; I remember first encountering his Metropol back in 1991 and being simultaneously bewildered and enchanted. Twin Peaks was big at the time and I remember thinking that McKeever was to comics what David Lynch was to television and film. I don’t think it’s a comparison that still holds muster now, but you get the basic idea. Meta4 is McKeever at one of his stranger moments, but at the same time I think it could be one of his most accessible stories to date.

It’s hard to sum up, after just one issue, exactly what Meta4 is really about. Readers quickly meet an amnesiac astronaut (or at least someone in an astronaut suit) wandering a mostly deserted down, encountering lowlifes and a woman dressed up at Santa who doesn’t so much speak as gives you a sense of what she’s feeling. That’s the bulk of the issue right there; there’s not huge amounts of plot progression or big moments that will stand out as, "Here’s what’s happening." Then again, this is a series whose title is a play on the word "metaphor." I don’t think we’re going to get something that’s terribly direct.

Now with that in mind, there’s a certain tone and quality to Meta4 #1 that made me enjoy it immensely. Maybe it’s the relative innocence of the amnesiac man trying to figure out where he is, or for that matter who he is. He’s made everything an open book and while some of his actions seem a little odd, he’s so honest about his befuddlement that he comes across all right. You don’t need to know anything about genre conventions, or comics, or really anything at all as you plunge into Meta4 #1, and I think that readers could fall for this story if McKeever paces it out carefully. Shows like Lost have proven that the casual public can fall for a, "What the heck is going on here?" story if there’s a hook to drag them in.

It helps that Meta4 has a hook in the form of McKeever’s black and white artwork, probably some of the best of his career to date. When the astronaut first encounters the abandoned carnival, it doesn’t look so much like a drawing as it does a wood cut that’s being reproduced in comic book form. As the smoke wafts up, you can see every spoke on the ferris wheel, every wooden slat on the windows. Even the smoke itself is exquisitely crafted, feeling full and heavy to the viewer while still being unmistakably smoke.

And from there, the book just keeps looking more gorgeous. Graffiti reflected on the astronaut’s helmet looks eerie and unsettling, like the ghost of a vampire rising up to look at the reader. The thick pieces of hair from the Santa Claus wig remind me of pieces of straw, or maybe a system of veins, each forking and hanging in a splayed pattern that ends up being entrancing. And when the astronaut finally takes of his helmet, there’s such a sense of befuddlement and confusion on his face that you can’t help but feel a little sorry for him, lost and dazed as he is. McKeever’s art looks beautiful the whole way through Meta4 #1, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people stuck around based solely on the illustrations.

Meta4 #1 is a good first issue, but at the same time the series is going to need to tread carefully from this point out. Enigmatic hints about a dispatcher aside, readers are going to want to see a little more about what’s really going on, and expect some sort of answer. I’m not saying that McKeever needs to spell everything out, but a give and take will have to happen eventually. For now, though, I’m satisfied with the first issue. It’s nice to see McKeever back in full weird mode again.

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