The comic book world is full of celebrities, actors, screenwriters, musicians, who fancy a go at doing comic books. And comic book publishers are happy to take them on, hoping they might bring a section of their undiscerning fanbase along. Some, like Gerard Way, Eve L Ewing, Max Bemis, Joss Whedon, Darryl McDaniels, Jonathan Ross, Kevin Smith, Paul Cornell, stick around for a while. Some make it their main gig. There are successes, there are failures, but there are also preconceptions. As Jarvis Cocker sang "Because everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it's all just a laugh."
Next month sees the launch of BRZRKR, a new comic book series created and co-written by Keanu Reeves. The "co-write" is also another warning flag, that the star hasn't actually got to grips with the medium and need their hand-holding. There is debate as to exactly what their participation was, did they come up with a vague idea and hire a writer and artist to do the actual legwork? All these issues whirl around the head when picking up a comic, but in the end, it's down to the work itself. Written by Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt, drawn by Ron Carney, coloured (mostly in red) by Bill Crabtree and lettered by Bible teacher Clem Robins. So, BRZRKR #1, advance copy, what gives? And can some divorce themselves from said preconceptions?
Well, the book simply won't let you. The main character looks like a beefed-up Keanu, the underlying thought throughout the comic is that this is a preamble to the inevitable Netflix movie starring Keanu Reeves wearing a muscle suit and we are getting the storyboards. This can't be "the death of the author" when the author is the one parading around in front of your eyes plunging his fists into guts.
It begins with the ultimate cliche on a dark and stormy night, before we see the Beef Keanu as a force of nature, ahead of the armed forces he is riding with, letting them catch up in his wake as he bursts his way through an opposing force, the most grotesque scenes knocked back into red on black, in silence. There is a lot of Frank Miller influence here, some scenes looking straight out of Sin City, as well as John Romita Jr, as the blood and guts begin to fly.
There is also the moral attitude here; a job must be done, no matter who gets in the way, which also fits BRZRKR alongside the likes of Wolverine, Punisher, Rorschach, Marv and the like, but with some underlying thought or message to put their actions in a further context and critique. When you wipe away the intestines.
Because there is a trick here, suggesting that all this action empty, devoid of the kind of emotional baggage that John Wick brought with it. So when BRZRKR rips a rib from one guy who is just in his way and uses it to stab him in the neck, before knocking his jaw off, ripping off an arm, then moving on, it's not entirely unexpected.
And that's just one of the gross acts that fill the first few pages. Several pages. Okay, most of it. All the while, when two people talk to each other in captions, flirting, establishing a relation, away from the blood spurting fray.
And weirdly I'm thrust back into not only the video game MadWorld on the Nintendo Wii but also the Rebecca Mayes musical review of the game. "I just stabbed a guy through the eye with a road sign, pulled out his heart with my bare hands, do I feel alright?"
That review concluded "you're trying way too hard, like a disillusioned nerd, who thinks chainsaws and swear words will make you the coolest kid in school" and I can't deny there is an aspect of that, here, the kind of thing that may have reached its apogee with Mark Millar and John Romita Jr, and there is a lot that reminds me of Kick-Ass here – not just the gore and the artistic style, but also the flippant attitude taken to that violence.
It doesn't quite jump into self-parody, Itchy And Scratchy territory though. Much of this is achieved by a conversation that runs through it, between two people you get a pretty good idea of, before seeing exactly who is speaking to whom. It gives the many gross acts spread out across the comic a little distance, context as even the idea that something may actually matter to someone. Maybe even a flirtation.
An immortal hero with a death wish, seeking mortality, was also the focus of Lazarus Churchyard by Warren Ellis and D'Israeli – a thin, wiry goth seeking the end. This BUFFR BRZRKR just wants it as an option. But it's not one that anyone really seems interested in giving to him.
But then we get glimpses of a wider view. A billboard ad for a biography notes a country under the propaganda of its dictator, and these actions carried out, however bloody or grotesque pale in comparison. But more than the moment, they go back far further into history, giving us a reluctant Highlander, Eternal Warrior, Jason Blood of a figure – he has seen so much death, why would one more death make the difference? Until of course, one does, and on that, the whole book may swivel.
If you can stomach past the gag reflex, this is an intriguing, entertaining comic book, that succeeds in making an impact, even in the unshockable world of 2021. It also intrigues with an infinity of stories yet to be told, with a lead character who, if his wish were granted, would see the end of this comic book. But I get the feeling that's a long way off.
BRZRKR (BERZERKER) #1 CVR A GRAMPA (MR)
(W) Matt Kindt, Keanu Reeves (A) Ron Garney (CA) Rafael Grampa
Discover the next blockbuster action franchise from the iconic KEANU REEVES in his Must Read comic book writing debut alongside New York Times best-selling co-writer Matt Kindt (Folklords, Bang!) and acclaimed artist Alessandro Vitti (Marvel's Secret Warriors) in a brutally violent new series about one immortal warrior's fight through the ages. The man known only as Berzerker is half-mortal and half-God, cursed and compelled to violence…even at the sacrifice of his sanity. But after wandering the world for centuries, Berzerker may have finally found a refuge – working for the U.S. government to fight the battles too violent and too dangerous for anyone else. In exchange, Berzerker will be granted the one thing he desires – the truth about his endless blood-soaked existence… and how to end it. NOTE: This is for Mature Readers In Shops: Feb 24, 2021 SRP: $4.99