BRZRKR: Keanu Reeves on Becoming a Best-Selling Comic Book Writer
by Mike Avila
Keanu Reeves loves talking about BRZRKR.
It’s clear throughout our interview with the superstar actor from iconic franchises such as The Matrix, the Bill & Ted films and of course, the John Wick series, that he is fully invested in this new character on whose shoulders he is building a multi-media franchise. And while he is far from the first actor to step into the comics business, Reeves is most assuredly not just lending his name here.
Reeves created the hit series alongside writer Matt Kindt (Dept. H, Mind MGMT) and artist Ron Garney (Captain America, Daredevil, Spider-Man). The result is a comic that became the biggest-selling original comics debut of the 21st century – more than 600,000 copies sold -- following a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $1.45 million. The first four-issue BRZRKR story arc is now available in a collected edition by BOOM! Studios October 5, and the fifth issue recently kicked off the series' second act. IGN sat down to talk with Reeves and his collaborators about the journey so far and what to expect in this new phase.
BRZRKR: The Story of B
If you’re not familiar with BRZRKR, it’s the story of B, a man who cannot die. B’s real name is actually Unute, which means "tool" and "weapon," and almost from birth he has been an instrument of war. He has been an engine of destruction across the ages. He’s so desperate to learn how to end his 80,000-year existence he willingly allows the U.S. government to experiment on him and use him as its own one-man kill squad, provided they figure out a way to end his immortal life.
“I felt that by setting up that he was born 80,000 years ago, there is this perspective there,” Reeves says. “There's a lot of places that we can go from there, and opportunities that we can go to. Which is fantastic. The first four issues were an origin story and of the modern day, the way the scientists and government are studying him. Now that we've done that we can go to chapter two and kind of push that forward.”
Reeves joked that the storytelling canvas of BRZRKR is similar to the lunch options at a diner.
“What do you want to eat? It's a big menu,” Reeves says. “It’s like when you get the big deli menu, or box of chocolates, or [go to] Cheesecake Factory.”
While the first four issues spent a good amount of time revealing B’s origin story, Kindt revealed the next chapters will concentrate on his current situation working with the U.S. special forces unit.
“It's present day with a little bit of looking back,” the writer says. “But what's cool is we have a theme for each issue that we sort of developed. Like one is about love, one is death, one is religion. And then the fourth one is friendship. It's cool because we're able to play with the structure within the structure, and I think it hit on some stuff we haven't hit on yet.”
“The first four issues had a lot of focus on the origin story,” Reeves adds. “Our intention for the second arc, now that we have that groundwork, is let's explore perhaps a little bit more of the present. So there's going to be a shift to…see what's inside. So let's crack this f***er open.”
The next chapter will explore more about what Stephen Caldwell is up to. A mysterious bureaucrat at the “undisclosed U.S. government facility in Tacoma, Washington” where Unute goes to heal and be examined, Caldwell’s official title is Head of Belief Systems and Ancient Technology Migration. He’s in charge of trying to decipher Unute’s origins, using techniques such as organ regeneration analysis and cognitive neuroscience, with an eye toward creating an entire army of immortal soldiers. He believes that long-suppressed memories are the key to figuring out the secret to Unute’s immortality, so he orders Diana, the BRZRKR’s psychologist, to dig for details that could help them figure out where and how Unute was born.
The Bloody Visuals of BRZRKR
Given B’s incredible lifespan and experiences [he makes a reference in an earlier issue to the crude medical techniques doctors used during the American Revolution] there exists the possibility of all sorts of BRZRKR adventures set in different time periods. Garney is certainly keen to dig deeper into his past.
“There's so many interesting possibilities,” observes Garney. “There is all this potential in this whole series, for other stories to tell within the stories that are being told now. I’m actually finishing up the first half of issue six today, and there's a scene actually with these Vikings and I just love the fricking scene and I would love to see more of it. That’s what makes it so epic.”
The comic is awash in violence and blood, expertly rendered by Garney and colorist Bill Crabtree. The level of violence in BRZRKR is enough to make John Wick blush, but Reeves is quick to point out that story also examines the reticence B feels about the violence he was literally born to do.
“I think [the violence] in the comic book, yeah it's graphic, but it's also very impressionistic,” Reeves says. “I think with the colors and with Ron's artwork, there's an impact to it, it's not fetishized. Yes, it’s kind of a blood and guts tale, there is an eyeball, and yes, that’s a bone…but I still feel it's pretty impressionistic, in a way.”
The creative trio works in an unorthodox fashion due to the fact that one member of the team is an international movie star who’s in high demand and usually working on a film. Often Kindt and Reeves tag-team on a story idea before its committed to paper and sent in full script form to Garney.
“It's pretty detailed. There are even suggestions as far as layouts so it’s really a back and forth thing and I'm actually fortunate because they pick up on things that I've been thinking about,” Garney says. “Like there's stuff I think about going back to, because I kind of move ahead on pages and I go back and redo them. And there's things that Keanu or Matt might catch that I had not thought about. There are small details that make a big difference. So it works out really well.”
Reeves gets particularly animated when asked about which Garney’s artwork, noting that he excels not just in the numerous action sequences but in other, less bloody, moments. He mentions one scene in particular as a personal favorite.
“I just love the image of B as a little boy the first time that he's going into battle. And his mom says, “but he's still just a boy.” And he has this battle axe and it’s bigger than him. I love that.”
He also praises the sequence in issue #4 that revealed the first time Unute realized he was immortal. “That was a great scene, when he is coming out of his cocoon and learns that he's can't die,” Reeves says. “Just those four panels of his reaction, it was a whole other technique there, it felt almost like a video. It was very emotional.”
BRZRKR: Beyond the Comics
Reeves has big plans for BRZRKR. Now that they’ve told the origin story, the guardrails can come off and the creative team can really cut loose. He teases something in the next story arc that he says will be “really fun.” But beyond comics, Reeves is aiming to turn his immortal warrior into his next big action franchise.
While he gears up to return as Neo for The Matrix Resurrections in December, he also is co-producing the live-action adaptation of BRZRKR as well as an anime series, both for Netflix. He credits the streamer for being a great partner on both projects, and in case there were any concerns that a BRZRKR movie would tone down the bloodletting seen in the comics, Reeves says Netflix has no qualms at all about it.
“In terms of working with Netflix, yeah, they've been great. [We told them] “You know, obviously, this is an R-rated piece,” and they were like, “yeah, we know. We read it.” And they were fine with it. So yeah, they've been pretty cool about it.”
BRZRKR Vol. 1 is available in print and digital form now.