Indie Comics Spotlight: Keanu Reeves' BZRKR is an immortal weapon with a death wish
by Karama Horne
Over the past three years, Keanu Reeves' renaissance in the entertainment industry has been nothing short of spectacular. Now, the actor, writer, producer, motorcycle mogul, musician, and the most likable guy in Hollywood can add successful comic book creator to his list of achievements. The Matrix Resurrections star collaborated with award-winning writer Matt Kindt (Dept. H, Mind MGMT), legendary Marvel artist Ron Garney (Wolverine, Captain America), and colorist Bill Crabtree (BPRD) on the comic BRZRKR. The 12-issue series follows a half-human, half-God immortal (bearing Reeves likeness), who is cursed with an uncontrollable bloodlust driving him to commit unthinkable acts of violence.
In light of the pandemic-related comic shop closures in 2020, BOOM! Studios and the creative team opted to crowdfund the project on Kickstarter. Successfully raising over $350,000 on its first day and over $1.45 million by the end of the campaign, BRZRKR became Kickstarter’s highest-grossing comic book project in the history of the platform. (They even donated a portion of their earnings to first time creators on the platform that month).
BRZRKR continued breaking records when it went to print, becoming, at 600,000 copies, the best-selling first-issue comic since 2015, beating Marvel’s Star Wars #1. If you haven’t read it yet, the collected edition of Vol. 1 hits comic shops today — and it might be worth getting caught up, because Netflix recently greenlit both a live-action movie and anime series adaption of BRZRKR, with Reeves set to co-produce and star in both projects.
Reeves took time out of his John Wick 4 shooting schedule to reconnect with Kindt and Garney to talk to SYFY WIRE about how this new creative venture is more than just blood and guts — it’s one man’s struggle with the very concept of existence and what makes us human.
“I went to meet with [BOOM!] just on a general meeting, and they asked me if I had any ideas, and I shared BRZRKR,” Reeves says. “They asked me if I’d like to make a comic, and I didn't know what I was saying yes to in terms of [the process]. But I love comics ”
“He’s a brave man,” Garney adds, lightly teasing Reeves for jumping into a new medium he didn’t have much familiarity with.
Kindt describes the co-writing process as unconventional but very creatively fulfilling: “[Keanu and I] were writing through dialogue. Just kicking ideas back and forth and sort of figuring out the characters. ... We’d have these long talks about violence and history and bigger conversations to get these ideas into the story.”
BRZRKR’S main character, B., was born over 80,000 years ago to a chieftain whose clan is annually besieged by marauders who steal and pillage from their poor village. The Chief’s wife, a mage with a close connection to the elder gods, brings the half-immortal into the world at the behest of her husband. She names him Uhuntu, which in this universe means “tool.” The child has a disturbing and uncontrollable blood lust, however. And his penchant for violence is growing as fast as he is (he ages years in a matter of months). Realizing that he can’t be stopped, only contained, the Chief points B. like a weapon in the direction of their enemies.
“[A tool] has two, two purposes, right?” Kindt says. “You can make something with it, and you can destroy something with it… [his parents are] making something or destroying something with him.”
And, destroy he does. BRZRKR is a very violent comic, but fans of Simon Bisley’s Lobo run, Cam Kennedy’s work on Sláine, or even Reeves’ own John Wick franchise probably won’t be fazed. In fact, Garney cites those very creators as some of his influences. “Al Raymond and Al Williamson… and all the way up [to] Frank Miller have directly [influenced my work]. But things jump into my head from these guys too, even Keanu, and his movies, like 47 Ronin, it’s all there,” Garney says.
For thousands of years, B. put his bloodlust to work, offering his services as an assassin for hire to all manner of kings, empires, and governments. In the present-day of the comic, B. is part of an elite wetworks unit of the United States Armed Forces. When he’s not in berserker mode ripping out someone's spine, he’s quietly recovering in a lab, where scientists probe his mind for the dual purpose of gaining access to the secrets of his immortality as well as an accurate record of the historical events he’s witnessed. The story seamlessly jumps back and forth through time as scientists probe B.’s psyche, and we hopscotch through B.’s memories with him.
“Our secret weapon really is Bill Crabtree,” Kindt says of the comic’s colorist. ”He does such a good job of helping us transition from [each] different time and place and telling the story with color.”
In exchange for becoming a government weapon and lab rat, B.‘s only hope is that they find a cure for his immortality so that he has the ability —the option, even — to die.
“There's a sad twist,” Kindt says. “It’s the idea of, ‘Better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.' But then what if you are constantly losing [that love]? That kind of wears on you after a while.”
"What are the consequences of immortality?” Reeves asks, noting that B. is a man who doesn’t know what to live for since he can’t die and doesn’t know anything about his own heritage. “What are the driving forces?”
“Because as mortals, if everything is from the perspective of what you can lose, and the fact that life is short, it adds value [to that life],” Garney adds.
“... And if you don't have value and you're immortal, then you’re lost,” Reeves explains.
This timeless struggle will be played out in both of the upcoming Netflix adaptations. However, the comics aren’t merely storyboards for the film or the series, says Reeves.
“The film is not looking to be a live-action version of a comic book. So, they might share some things, but it might be different,” he explains. “And the [anime] series I hope that it goes somewhere else entirely.”
BRZRKR Vol. 1 collects issues #1-4 and is now available in comics shops, bookstores, and digitally.