Writer – Keanu Reeves & Matt Kindt
Artist – Ron Garney
Keanu Reeves is starting to become a business within himself. For many decades, Reeves was an actor who drew jeers for the way he said “Whoa” and failed to convincingly deliver an accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That all changed in 2014 when John Wick sent shockwaves across the film industry that are still being felt today. Suddenly, the earnestness with which he approached all his projects became obvious to general audiences. Those of us who had seen his debut directorial effort, The Man of Tai Chi, the year prior had already gotten a glimpse of how Reeves could enter a world seemingly outside his own with respect as he partnered with brilliant collaborators. In recent years, he’s expanded this approach to other mediums outside of film. One of those projects – Cyberpunk 2077 – has sparked much discussion in light of its tremendous hype followed by a rocky launch, though the larger story around that game is still being told. The other major project coming out during this window is BRZRKR, his 12-issue comic book maxi-series coming from Boom! Studios with co-writer Matt Kindt and artist Ron Garney.
Reeves’ initial spark for this story was this mental image of an action scene where he played a character so strong that he could punch an opponent through the chest and come out the other side. He took a general meeting with Boom!, where he pitched the general concept and they connected him with Matt Kindt to flesh it out. Kindt himself had been a longtime respected indie creator for comics like MIND MGMT and Dept. H. The creation process for each issue has been described as a Marvel-style story meeting between the two writers that Kindt then works into a full script. To draw the series they landed on Ron Garney, an artist who first broke through in the 90s on titles like Captain America and Uncanny X-Men. In recent years, Garney has developed a moodier and sketchier style that has made him a bigger draw on stories like Amazing Spider-Man: Back in Black and Charles Soule’s Daredevil.
The ramp-up to this comic’s release has already made it into a sensation. A Kickstarter promoting the series’ eventual trade paperback collections surpassed its initial $50,000 fundraising goal and ended up nearing $1.5 million. There were some retailer complaints about a major publisher going through the crowdfunded route, but the Kickstarter did its job in connecting Keanu fans with an immediate purchase that could get sent directly to them – and during a worldwide pandemic, no less. Even with those complaints, that didn’t stop retailers from ordering roughly 615,000 copies of the debut issue – making it the highest selling comic book since Star Wars #1 published by Marvel Comics in 2015.
So how is it? Honestly, it’s a little hard to say at this point. The extra-sized 44-page debut issue follows an extended action scene as Reeves’ protagonist goes on a military mission where he absolutely brutalizes his way through his targets. It’s the comic equivalent of the James Bond cold open, but with significantly amped up graphic violence. This is the kind of comic that has multiple instances of brains getting smashed out of skulls as eyeballs go flying. In one particularly inspired moment, part of a ribcage is torn out of one man’s body and then used to stab another man.
The majority of story content for this issue is driven by the reader wondering exactly what type of comic this is going to end up being. The last page strongly signals what’s in store for the next issues as it looks like we’re in for another riff on the immortal hero as seen in comics like The Old Guard and Valiant’s Eternal Warrior. Reeves is clearly interested in an eventual film adaptation, which would be annoying in its Mark Millar-like desperation if it wasn’t for the absolutely adorable efforts he’s been going through to promote the comic through media outlets and prerecorded videos. Kindt and Garney are both absolute pros, which makes it easy to assume this series is in reliable hands. There may have not been enough here to commit me to buying all 12 issues, but I’ll definitely be picking up the eventual collections that were already pre-sold to the hungriest Keanu fans.