“Wake the fuck up, samurai. We have a city to burn.”- Cyberpunk 2077
Legendary actor/the Internet’s boyfriend Keanu Reeves teams up with co-writer Matt Kindt, artist Ron Garney, and colorist Bill Crabtree for BRZRKR #1. The premise is simple: a possibly divine immortal is fighting and killing for the United on various black ops missions for the opportunity to become mortal. As shown in this first issue, Berzerker is a single-minded killer, who will stab someone to death with their own bones or get blown up to finish a mission. However, BRZRKR #1 also shows he may have a shred of humanity beneath all the grisly violence and terse dialogue, and it’s the series’ biggest wild card as well as its hook along with the slow unveiling of Berzerker’s past, who is more Christian Walker than Wolverine. He’s no cop or hero though.
From Berzerker’s speech patterns to the way he carries himself as a character and also the deep levels of grief he hides behind a stoic demeanor, BRZKR #1 definitely seems like a comic that could turn into a Keanu Reeves acting role down the road. However, future brand synergy and questionable use of Kickstarter aside, this comic doesn’t come across as an illustrated movie script thanks to Reeves, Kindt, and especially artist Garney’s use of what makes the medium unique. The team marries show and tell nicely in the first 30 pages of the comic with Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt’s narration fleshing out Berzerker’s attitude and motivation while Ron Garney and Bill Crabtree’s visuals establish him as a nearly unstoppable force of violence. They show his disconnection from humanity in other ways like how he never directly addresses the soldiers he’s with, leaps into action ahead of them, and never really acknowledges anyone until we see him with the doctor towards the end of the comic, who is trying to bring him back to reality while making sure the U.S. will still have his services.
Ron Garney, who is coming off tremendous runs on Daredevil and Juggernaut, finds a happy medium between Frank Miller’s work on Sin City and Geof Darrow’s general, violent mayhem. Perhaps, BRZKR is Hard Boiled 2021. Garney’s iconic poses and uses of silhouette, shadow, and vertical panels are straight from Miller’s best work while his detailed approach to violence is very Darrow-esque although he goes for cartooning over hyper detail. Like both storytellers, he lets the opening setpiece breathe, which gives this comic a “day in the life” feel while also showing many opportunities for Berzerker to kill the dictator’s goons in increasingly creative ways. This is while the real enemy aka the U.S. government is skulking in the corners and using his DNA to build a non-white-helmeted clone army. As well as letting the fight scenes breathe, Reeves, Kindt, and Garney let the scenes in the government lab last for a few extra pages and also be part of the book’s only double page spread to show how Berzerker’s employer controls him so much.
Bill Crabtree’s colors help up the creepiness quotient of the lab scenes in BRZRKR #1 that are slightly reminiscent of Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” storyline. He uses lots of greys and blues to show how lifeless and invasive Berzerker’s surroundings are in contrast with the earthier palette he uses for the fight scenes (Plus red for the really violent bits.) and a big time flashback. This is especially effective when Berzerker has a moment of hesitation and doesn’t kill a young man watching him brutally assassinate the president of an unnamed Latin American country that the United States is starting a coup in. Crabtree transitions from the scarlet of battle to the blue of mercy, and this pattern recurs when Berzerker chats with his doctor on-panel towards the end of the comic in a sequence that really adds to his character and provides additional layers beyond being a killer with a dry sense of humor.
There are several comics (The Old Guard, Heavy, almost every Wolverine book) dealing with the themes of immortality, violence, and hopefully becoming mortal one day. However, none of them will likely be adapted into a film starring Keanu Reeves as a star eyed, shaggy haired warrior, who will jump out of windows into humvees, take gunfire on his chest, and a bullet to the head just to have a slight shot at remembering his past and being able to die one day. And none of them were co-written by Reeves, who with Kindt, gives Berzerker the laconic, world-worn voice that matches the carnage he’s covered in and dishes out as depicted by Ron Garney, who channels his inner warrior poet with an action sequence longer than most comics with the help of colorist Bill Crabtree, whose palette conveys rage and just a small slice of hope. All of this is to say is that BRZRKR #1 is worth checking out if you like breathtaking fight choreography and layouts with an eye for detail with a protagonist, who is a total badass, but needs a hug and not to be treated like a lab rat or go on another mission in service of American imperialism.
Story: Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt Art: Ron Garney
Colors: Bill Crabtree Letters: Clem Robins
Story: 7.5 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.3 Recommendation: Buy
BOOM! Studios provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review