The first issue of “Brzrkr” (2021–) is the comic book equivalent of a Rorschach test. To some, the Keanu Reeves-penned book (yes, that Keanu Reeves) will read as a charming attempt by a celebrity to break into a new medium. Others will see the Kickstarter-funded venture as Sal of comic review channel “ComicPop” put it on hisInstagram, “the most blatant movie series pitch in comic book form I've ever seen."
Featuring co-writing from Matt Kindt, pencils by Ron Garney, and colors by Bill Crabtree, the book follows an immortal named “Berzerker," drawn to resemble Reeves, who works for a secret branch of the U.S. government as a hired gun for black ops missions. The twist? He’s a partial amnesiac and, say it with me, he wants the U.S. government to help him remember and perhaps end his long existence. The story, while unoriginal, could have been good if it were not for Berzerker being so unfathomably grim. I can’t imagine him being at all likable, save for the fact that he is wearing the face of the internet’s current favorite celebrity.
I think what’s most disappointing is that Reeves has had a fairly diverse career — he’s done comedy, drama and action — and yet the character he clearly wants to portray is a gritty Wolverine knockoff. Normally this writer wouldn’t comment on the comic writer’s personal life or other career ventures at all, but with Reeves being who he is, I find it appropriate and necessary. I would have liked a bit more “Bill & Ted Face the Music” (2020) style comedy, a little of the wide-eyed awe of Neo discovering the Matrix, anything to break out of the hyper-edgy characterization. What does Berzerker like? What does he do in his time off? These may seem like silly questions to ask, seeing as around half of the issue is taken up by admittedly very cool fight scenes, but taking even a page or two to humanize the character would have gone a long way toward boosting his relatability.
On the flip side, the art by Garney and Crabtree is fantastic with heavy shadows and a gritty color palette that evokes heavy metal album covers and quick-and-dirty sketchbook work. At times, the art ventures into territory akin to a horror comic, with one particularly striking visual of Berzerker emerging from an explosion actually managing to be quite frightening. The art captures movement well, which helps keep up with the frantic pace of the issue, but they also manage to include plenty of detail so that the reader can appreciate some creative violence, like Berzerker’s using a victim’s rib as an improvised knife. The art of “Brzrkr” is unique and the colors are vibrant, but despite its most valiant effort, it just isn’t enough to justify the price of admission.
If any lessons are to be learned from “Brzrkr” #1, they must begin with the fact that a movie pitch in comic form featuring an A-list celebrity is not an inherently flawed idea. In fact, I’d be thrilled if this became a mainstream way for actors and actresses to pitch their ideas to the public in hopes of selling to a major studio. The second, and more important, lesson lies in the fact that these stories need to be engaging, or people will see these experiments not as experiments, but as dumping half-baked scripts to comic publishers with big names attached in order to make a quick buck.