Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Cover by Rafael Grampa

Keanu Reeves makes his comics debut with the hyper-violent BRZRKR

Cover by Rafael Grampa
Image: Boom! Studios

For his comic book debut, Keanu Reeves embraces the medium’s long history of taking established concepts, filing off the serial numbers, and presenting them as something new. BRZRKR #1 (Boom!) introduces an immortal hero who will remind readers of a lot of different characters: Wolverine, Vandal Savage, Eternal Warrior, the soldiers of The Old Guard. He’s gruff and doesn’t say much, has been around for millennia, and dedicates his life to violence, currently performing black-ops missions for the U.S. government in hopes they will find a way to end his immortality. John Wick is a gust of wind compared with the atomic bomb that is BRZRKR’s B, and this first issue succeeds by committing to the character’s power and aggression, using most of its double-sized page count for an extended action sequence with a very satisfying build.

Two major comic book trends intersect in the development of BRZRKR. The first is comic as Hollywood pitch, with a high-profile celebrity name creating a new project that could potentially be adapted as a live-action star vehicle. The second is using Kickstarter as proof of demand for publishers and studios, using the public crowdfunding avenue to secure financial support while building buzz. The BRZRKR Kickstarter earned nearly $1.5 million, 30 times its $50,000 goal, and with 600,000 copies sold, BRZRKR #1 is the highest-selling single issue since Marvel’s Star Wars #1 in 2015. These trends have their problems, though: Treating comics as a pitch vehicle for film and TV hinders creativity with the formal and narrative limitations of other media. In the process, celebrities with the money to fund their own projects are drawing attention from Kickstarter projects that fully rely on crowdfunding to survive.

But Keanu Reeves fans who supported this comic are getting a product that fully channels his strengths as an action star. If BRZRKR does get turned into a movie, it would be an extremely cool one, given this first issue’s big set piece. Reeves wisely works with a team of comics veterans for this series: co-writer Matt Kindt, artist Ron Garney, colorist Bill Crabtree, and letterer Clem Robins. Kindt was one of the driving creative forces behind the Valiant Comics relaunch, giving him a lot of experience updating and remixing past superhero ideas. As an artist himself, Kindt recognizes the value of letting visuals drive the plot, and the sparse scripting of BRZRKR #1 works in its favor by putting the attention on Garney’s and Crabtree’s brutal artwork.

The sketchy, high-contrast style Garney developed on Daredevil is pushed even further here, and his understanding of superhero fundamentals amplifies the spectacle, giving readers art that looks like Frank Miller by way of John Buscema. Crabtree makes dramatic palette choices but doesn’t go too hard on the rendering, which keeps the emphasis on Garney’s forceful inking. The violence here is very graphic, but it’s also cartoonishly over-the-top. B forgoes weapons because he can punch through a human body like tissue paper, and Garney delights in drawing all the little bits of gore on B’s bandaged hands. An action-driven narrative doesn’t have to be especially original on a conceptual level if said action is exhilarating, and BRZRKR knows its central appeal and delivers, with a very high level of craftsmanship. Garney, in particular, has never had the opportunity to let loose like this, and the first issue’s cliffhanger promises even greater things in the future as B’s history comes into play.