Since 2014 and the release of the first “John Wick” film, we’ve been living in the Keanussance. Decades from now, historians will look back on this period and recognize it as the time we as a civilization realized that the star of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Speed,” the “Matrix” trilogy was actually still cool and a really great guy all around. While it’s likely that the next “Matrix” and “John Wick” movies will only offer further proof of the Keanussance’s continuance, I assert that the moment we found out that the first issue of “BRZRKR” was the highest-selling debut issue for an original comic in the past 25 years, will stand as the biggest example of his popularity during this period. This would be because he got a lot of people to buy a comic he co-wrote and created -- something a lot of famous people and creators have failed to do over the years.
If only the comic that he was getting people to buy was actually good.
I’ve read elsewhere that B, the protagonist of “BRZRKR” who bears Keanu’s likeness, is the actor’s way of playing Wolverine on his own terms. It’s not a bad theory. B is introduced to us alongside some American commandos on a mission to take out a presidente in some Central or South American-ish country. I don’t know why he’s accompanied by these commandos since the character is shown to be an utterly monstrous killing machine. This is due to his punch jaws off faces, stab one person with the rib he pulled out of another, and fly out the window of a multi-story building and still get up to run after more targets.
Why does he do this? Because there’s a monster inside of him and killing those in front of him is the only way he knows how to calm it. He’s not being wholly figurative here as after he says that we find out that the character was summoned to be a human weapon so very long ago. Long enough that the burden of being an unkillable warrior is starting to wear on him. Not that B wants to die. No, he just wants what everyone else has: The chance to.
That’s the main drive behind the story of this first volume, and it’s a pretty thin one. While we get to see a lot of scientists working on the character, assumedly trying to figure out how to make B’s request come true, it’s all window dressing to the main event. Which would be seeing B’s ferocious combat skills in action. The opening scene is the only one to take place in the present day, with the rest occurring back during the late Paleolithic era. Which means that things get a lot more brutal as B takes out his opponents using his raw strength -- read, ripping them in half -- more often than not.
All of this is skillfully rendered by Ron Garney. He’s a veteran artist who has a long history of working at Marvel, and he’s always been good with delivering action scenes with a lot of energy. Here, his art has a chunkier look than usual with the characters often looking like big bricks ready to be smashed by our protagonist. Garney handles all that well, though that makes this not a comic for the squeamish. Everyone else who likes their violence brutal, fast, and very bloody will certainly come away satisfied.
If only I could say that for the writing. Matt Kindt is credited as co-writing this series with Keanu, but as he’s the veteran comics writer I’d be very surprised to learn that he wasn’t doing most of the work here. There’s a familiar no-nonsense tone to the dialogue, and everything reads in a pretty straightforward fashion. This means that anyone expecting the experimentive formalism that has marked the writer’s best work like “Mind MGMT” is going to come away disappointed. It’s not that I was expecting to see any of the formalist tricks he pulled in that series here, but they would’ve gone a long way towards making what’s here more interesting.
It’s likely Kindt is just here to take Keanu’s ideas and turn them into a coherent comic script. The problem is that he does this in a rather dry fashion. I wouldn’t say that Kindt’s comics have been a showcase for witty dialogue, but what we get here rises no higher than the level of “functional.” The same goes for the plotting as well, with there being no real surprises to B’s journey at this point. It feels like you could have swapped Kindt out for any other B-tier comic book writer and we’d have received the same comic regardless.
That’s because Keanu is the real star of the show here, and I’ll be hoping that the already announced animated series and live-action movie from Netflix will offer a more interesting take on the source material. I like seeing the man kill bad dudes as much as the next person, but “BRZRKR” just feels like too many other action stories at this point. All it has to distinguish itself is the actor’s involvement. Without that, it’s unlikely anybody would care about this comic at all.