The Matrix Comics
by Paul Skevington
There is a certain sweet misery caused by the reading of this title. I don't know about you but I'm still reeling from the sheer mediocrity of the third film's ending. Believe me, I wanted to like it, I was desperate to like it.
I had thought the first film a masterpiece. The second was highly enjoyable and full of the promise of a satisfying conclusion. If the film were a lover it would be a drunken nymphomaniac. Then the third came along and assaulted us with one of the most anti-climactic, disappointing finales of all time. The initial thrill had worn off and we'd woken up to find the drunk making us breakfast in skid-marked underwear.
It would be unfair, however, to allow the artistic poverty of the third instalment to colour our opinions of this collection of titles, set in 'The Matrix' universe. It does in fact contain many pieces of a quality that anyone, Matrix fan or not, can appreciate. You may be familiar with the work in this compilation as it has all been previously published on the Matrix website. It is still available there, even after the release of the book.
'But why should I spend my hard earned cash on something I can read for free?' I hear you say. Good point, you at the back. I can only answer that, from a personal perspective, I found it much more satisfying to peruse a copy whilst lying in bed with a hot chocolate and a teddy-bear than I did sitting bolt upright staring at a monitor screen. Also, it looks better on your shelf than a hard-drive does.
Still, what you really want to know is, is it any good? Well, to put it plainly, if you were somehow seized by a desperate desire to look up the term 'mixed bag' in an illustrated dictionary, you may well see a picture of this collection emblazoned before you. By the way, if this actually does happen to you, please seek medical help immediately. The instantaneous grabber of the collection is the short story written by Mr Neil 'I can't do anything wrong if I tried' Gaiman.
This is an entirely prose piece and, whilst not being amongst his best work, it is an interesting manipulation of the Matrix setting. Gaiman shows no fear at bending the rules to suit his narrative inclination. It is also fascinating that this early piece, like many of the others in the anthology, seems to have been written before the Wachowski brothers cemented the laws of the Matrix universe, leading to some interesting variations that do not always gel with the films.
The story deals with the idea of the Matrix as a false reality by playing tricks with time, so an apparent year in the Matrix only takes seconds in the real world. The most interesting element though is the introduction of aliens to the situation, providing a common enemy that both humans and machines need to defeat and an intrusion into the age-old status quo. It is an entertaining piece, but whilst reading it one gets the nagging feeling that Gaiman hasn't really taken it all that seriously and that some of the ideas contained within have been only hastily examined.
Despite this, it's still by far the best thing about this collection. As mentioned before, the actual comics themselves vary in quality. The excellent 'Butterfly', written and drawn by Dave Gibbons, is wonderfully minimalist with its dialogue, like a Haiku in the form of a comic. Over just a few pages, it very elegantly tells a tale of struggle, hope and death in the simple story of one man's confrontation with the nastiest of the nasty, those darn pesky Agents.
Also to be commended are 'A Sword Of A Different Colour' by Troy Nixey and 'A Life Less Empty' by Ted McKeever which both manage to illustrate the untapped depth of the Matrix setting and the wonderful things that can emerge when authors and artists of talent are allowed to play with it. Other comics like John Van Fleet's 'Burning Hope' demonstrate what happens when the other types of authors are given a go. I was personally disappointed by this confused and poorly written story as I am a fan of Van Fleet's work.
He does produce more of his wonderful semi-photo-realistic artwork, which has an appealing dream-like quality to it but this is simply not matched by his literary craftsmanship. All I can say is don't give up the day-job, mate. Also, we have 'Get It' by Peter Bagge, a 'humorous' look at the public reactions to the first film. Unfortunately, it's about as funny as watching Keanu Reeves getting fed into a wood-chipper.
So, mixed bag it is then. Despite this, the quality of the truly excellent pieces is high enough for me to recommend any Matrix fan to pick up a copy and, as a whole, the collection is an enjoyable night's read. If you really don't like any of the comics, you can rip them out and borrow that wood-chipper we mentioned.
Once you'd cleaned the Keanu off of it that is...