Between the book title being BRZRKR and my mental block with the spelling of, let me look it up, Keanu Reeves‘ name, there is gonna be a lot of copy/paste action going on in this review! The comic is BRZRKR, publisher is Boom! Studios, writer credits equally shared between actual movie star Keanu Reeves and a big deal comics writer, Matt Kindt. Art is from the post-Bronze Age workhorse and longtime fan favorite Ron Garney, with character design credits shared with the tremendous Brazilian comics artist Rafael Grampa.
And to get the elephant in the room addressed right away, buy a fuckin’ vowel already! Leave that vowel-dropping naming shit for Silicon Valley and keep it out of my comics. And Matt Kindt, who’s almost as consonant-forward as the comic title, I think he’s just trolling.
Oh, of course, that’s not the elephant - that’s where John Wick himself, Neo of the Matrix, Bodhisattva, Theodore Logan, both Johnnies Fucking Utah and Mnemonic, comes in. Reeves is credited with creating the concept and as mentioned, gets full co-writer credit here. He and Kindt do what comics do best and take advantage of an unlimited budget for over-the-top widescreen action that completely captures the feel of a blockbuster Keanu Reeves picture, while delivering high-test comics.
The story is far from new, but a classic trope that still has great legs; the immortal dude who wants to die. He’s 80 thousand years old, can’t be killed and works for the US government doing terrible black ops shit. He’s also letting them study him in the hopes that they’ll eventually figure out how to kill him once they’ve figured out how to replicate him. It’s Barry Sadler’s Casca Longinus, the Eternal Mercenary and it’s Valiant Comics’ Gilad Anni-Padda, the Eternal Warrior. It’s almost Panzer and Davis’ Connor and Duncan MacLeod, both Highlanders, and also shares DNA with Marvel Comics Logan, the Wolverine and I know I am missing a hundred other examples. While a well-trodden path, it’s still a great concept in good hands, and these are pretty excellent hands!
Like with any immortal warrior concept, a ton of storytelling is done in flashbacks. I wonder if Matt Kindt couldn’t have done a little better than that, conceptually… where ‘immortal warrior’ is an archetype, that there must be a heavy flashback element in this type of story is so common that it makes me think they are intentionally aping Highlander here. Maybe using our familiarity with the mechanism of this character concept gives them a sort of shorthand to let them get to the action faster?
Unlike Highlander and current comics Wolverine, healing is not a fast process in the comic. In the first issue our protagonist, for now let’s call him B (we’ll get to all the name shit, trust me) gets royally busted up, shot up, and blown to hell; in the 4th issue he’s still messed and recovering. If I have my choice, I like my immortal super fast-healing action dudes to regenerate a little more slowly, I guess. I can’t believe I just typed those words, but hey, I said it so you don’t have to!
The action is so over the top it’s higher than Bezos’ Blue Origin. When B gets a mad on, it gets extremely messy, with liberal rending of limbs, eviscerations, tearing out of hearts, buckets of gore. B with a head of steam is one part Conan, one part Hulk and a chunk of (severely damaged) Steve Rogers. It seems B actually needs to fight and tear people apart or he loses control and goes completely, oh you get it. BRZRKR. So he’s fought since he was, get this, 2 years old. In flashbacks we see his terrible childhood and are presented with evidence to suggest B is some kind of lower-g god. It’s great action, angst where appropriate (I have lived so LONG, I wish to END IT, yadda yadda). It’s what you signed up for when you grabbed this comic!
Okay, so about the name. Check this out, from the softcover collected edition back cover.
A WAR WITH NO END. The man known only as B. 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, the 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, B. will be granted the one thing he desires – the truth about his endless blood-soaked existence…and how to end it.
I have been calling him B in this article for convenience sake, but nowhere in the book is here ever called “B”. In fact, his ancient name is mentioned and his confidante even uses it, ‘Unute’. His black ops comrades don’t call him anything much; really they don’t interact with him and in fact, if too close on an op he’s as liable to tear them in two as anyone. He’s got memory problems, being 80,000 years old and he’s tired of eternal life and he sulks a lot when not fighting. Yeah he had a shitty childhood and he’s got problems, but damn if he’s not just another self-absorbed Old White Man. Yes, this comic is best when not trying to get too introspective.
Ron Garney’s art is rough and sketchy, lots of that kinetic energy he’s known for. He does great big impossible action, and his long experience with action comics storytelling commands the page and drives the uncomplicated story forward with a relentless pace. He switches from the modern setting and tactical gear to ancient Stone Age axes and animal skins with ease. He distances us from Unute when he’s in berserker mode, letting us witness his brutal savagery from afar, letting us only get close to make us want to back away. The brief interludes between insane action scenes only give us close-ups of Unute when he’s sharing memories with his confidante, Diana.
BRZRKR #1-4 is collected as BRZRKR VOLUME ONE and is a satisfying story; while it does end with “to be continued”, it’s not a cliffhanger and I do want to pick up the next volume to learn more. Each issue was released with a bazillion variant covers of varying rarity to satisfy the collector’s mindset. If you want to read individual issues, you can never go wrong with your local comics shop. They can also hook you up with the softcover collected edition, just out, or order if for you if they’ve sold out. They’ll be happy to save future issues for you too, so what are you waiting for? Digital’s always an option and comiXology’s probably your best bet, though you can also buy direct from Boom! Studios.
Until we meet again, read some comics, subscribe to my newsletter, leave me a comment and tell me what you think!
Plenty of Pulp, by Max Cage
Simultaneously posted on my newsletter and blog, Here We Are Now, Entertain Us and also at The Wednesday Pull List