B is an immortal superhuman. He has been immortal for a long, long time. His immunity to death, his unmatched strength, his millennia of martial experience, and his peerless ferocity have made him the single most lethal individual on the planet. But B’s memory is a haze. And he is exhausted. He has been exhausted for a long, long time. He does not want to die, nor is he suicidal. But he wants to be able to die, wants an ending to be a real possibility.
The high technology of the 21st century might be able to make B’s want a reality, so he has cut a deal with the United States government: he’ll kill for them and allow them to perform experiments on him that could help them create a clone army or replicate his strength. In return, they will help him find a way to become mortal. It’s a good bargain, in a ruthlessly pragmatic sort of way.
And then a mission goes right. It goes right on paper, and on levels that are set to reveal themselves in future issues of BRZRKR. In the depths of B’s memory, something sparks.
Violent Tourist Too Angry For Vowels
BRZRKR, drawn by Ron Garney, colored by Bill Crabtree, lettered by Clem Robins, and written by Matt Kindt and Keanu Reeves, is a fascinating comic. Textually, it’s a followup to the work that Kindt did in his very fun meta-spy comic Bang! – only this time working directly with a movie star’s image rather than pastiches of stars. From a star studies perspective, it’s similarly intriguing, since Reeves is lending his likeness to B in addition to co-writing his adventures, and thus is to an extent “playing” him.
It’s also an absolute blast of a book (with the caveat that it is extremely violent, including the death of a child), thanks in large part to Garney’s stupendous illustration of the breathtakingly violent action sequence that takes up most of BRZRKR‘s first issue. How best to describe it? Allow me to borrow a quote from another famously blood-soaked piece of recent popular culture (one that also made a name for itself in the early 1990s and experienced a dramatic resurgence in popularity in the 2010s).
“Rip and tear. Until it is done.”
That is not an exaggeration. BRZRKR lives up to both that comparison and its name and then some. After the above page, BRZRKR hits the ground guns blazing, and does not stop until it’s time to stop. Garney’s action is forceful, kinetic, and bloody as all get-out. He takes full advantage of his protagonist’s sheer relentlessness to turn him into a human wrecking ball, barrelling through foes and leaving ruin in his wake.
Furthermore, Garney works Reeves’ grace and physicality as an action performer into B’s choreography. The drive and the paradoxical stillness that Reeves deployed to such effective use in Point Break, The Matrix, and John Wick are very present, even though they’re deployed more viciously in BRZRKR than even the Wick pictures.
Crabtree’s colors are a striking blend of muted (the drab tactical gear B and his fellows wear in action, the pinks, and oranges of a sunset, the blues, and greens of a therapist’s office) and bold (B’s glowing eyes and the oceans of blood that he leaves in his wake) that sets B apart from the world even as he engages with it. Garney and Crabtree’s work is excellent, and the close of this first issue suggests that BRZRKR‘s going to give them a chance to stretch a bit as the story continues. It’s an exciting prospect.
The Idea is “Keanu Reeves”
As mentioned above, Kindt and Reeves are weaving a strand of metafiction throughout BRZRKR. Reeves’ star image is as much a part of the text as B’s world-weariness. The issue opens by invoking Sad Keanu, for goodness’ sake. It also uses two key aspects of Reeves’ star persona — his credibility as an action star and his likability — to successfully introduce B to the audience. Reeves’ likeness confers automatic credibility to B’s status as the most dangerous man alive and grants him a humanity that might otherwise elude a character as absurdly violent and (at this point) amoral as he is. It is, in other words, a solid piece of “casting” that builds on the actor’s strengths.
Given that Kindt’s Bang! riffed on (amongst others) characters who were all but directly stated to be based on a hypothetical Idris Elba-performed James Bond and Bruce Willis’ John McClane, BRZRKR feels a bit like a continuation of that work, now with an explicit “performance” from an actor as opposed to a pastiche, down to B’s cadence when speaking (Reeves even recorded a trailer for the comic in B’s voice). It will be curious to see how this aspect of the book develops as BRZRKR continues.
As for the text of the story itself, it’s a solid hook — one of a piece with Kindt’s excellent run on Valiant Comics’ Ninjak. A human weapon’s internal scale starts to tip slightly more towards “human” than “weapon”. A shady government agency’s maliciousness is horribly quiet. It’s conscienceless, ruthless goal-chasing, and a genuine desire to keep the people it asks to do brutal violence in its name as healthy as it can, rather than cackling and vanilla-flavored vodka from a skull. And there’s a spark. A spark that could start a fire. Kindt knows this territory well. He and Reeves move through it with skill and style.
BRZRKR #1 is an excellent comic, and I am thrilled to be following it. The action is creatively vicious. The story is intriguing. The interaction between Reeves’ star image and the character he is co-writing and lending his likeness to is downright fascinating. For folks on its wavelength, it’s a must-read.
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