Welcome to Stapled Cinema, our ongoing series celebrating the valiant adaptations of one sequential art form into another. Comic book movies are seemingly everywhere, but sometimes, it’s the movies that come to the comics. In this entry, we consider one actor’s first foray into the medium with Keanu Reeves’ BRZRKR.
Keanu Reeves is a titan of action cinema. Riding the wave of Point Break onto the bus of Speed and into the infinite realms of possibilities provided by The Matrix, the actor established himself as a sensitive, caring badass. His heroes feel your pain, but they’re also happy to increase it if your morals are proven despicable.
With three John Wicks recently behind him (and hopefully a fourth somewhere on the horizon), Reeves seems more energized by the genre than ever. Now, he’s looking for arenas to express himself outside the usual Hollywood constraints. As recently announced by Boom Studios, Reeves is partnering with writer Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT, Ether) and artist Alessandro Vitti (Iceman, Secret Warriors) on a new comic book series entitled BRZRKR.
The first issue is set for release on October 7th. It’s the saga of a half-man/half-god killing machine in league with the American government. When US troops find themselves caught in jams too difficult to transform into victory, they call in this ancient, Herculean mercenary known only as the Berzerker to turn the tide. Why should this champion fight for the Red, White, and Blue? We hold the key to understanding the nature of his existence, as well as how to end it.
Exhausted, immortal warriors are all the rage these days. We’ve got The Old Guard tearing up Netflix’s algorithm, and even Marvel Comics has found a way to bring Conan the Barbarian into the contemporary lineup of Savage Avengers. Watching battle axes and broad swords obliterate the sophisticated and technologically advanced assassin offers a cathartic release for a cushy readership. We know what we deserve.
Honestly, though, the appeal here is not the plot. We adore Keanu Reeves. His passion for his creative endeavors is communicable, and wherever he goes, we’ll follow.
There is reason to be cautious whenever an actor sets his sights upon another artistic realm. Part of our primeval brain instinctively leans into cynicism, if not downright jealously. Face it, the second I achieve a modicum of celebrity, I will bend it in whatever way I can in order to gain access to the Marvel Comics offices. You do what you gotta do, Keanu.
In the last twenty years, there have been many comic book encroachments by Hollywood types. Often they dip in for a tease and vanish without ever completing the tale. As of this writing, J.J. Abrams and his son Henry have yet to turn in their final two issues of their Spider-Man miniseries that launched in October of last year (you can’t just kill Mary Jane Watson and bail, guys?!?!). I’d be upset if I weren’t already burned by Kevin Smith’s aborted 2002 Daredevil/Bullseye series.
Then again, I shouldn’t be too frustrated with Smith. He went on to deliver the delightfully sweet and nostalgic Batman ‘66 Meets the Green Hornet with his podcast buddy Ralph Garman. Beyond writing an exceptional story worthy of the medium, the director/actor/whatever needs to make sure they have time in their schedule to accomplish the task. The comic book should never be second to what you really want to be doing. Smith lost his way during Daredevil/Bullseye, but he found the hours for Batman and Green Hornet.
Also, don’t be Guy Ritchie or John Woo slapping their names on comic books with a “producer” credit for Richard Branson’s short-lived Virgin Comics. Preacher‘s Garth Ennis did what he could as the writer on John Woo’s Seven Brothers, but the result amounted to little more than a quick cash-grab. So few titles were sold that barely anyone remembers, and the embarrassment easily faded into obscurity.
As comic book loyalists, we don’t appreciate interlopers, and it makes us bitter. We should resist this negativity. It’s healthier to imagine that Keanu Reeves will be the next Gerard Way and not Jennifer Love Hewitt. After dumping her name above the title of IDW’s Music Box, she took the hands-off approach to her creation, leaving the dirty work to Scott Lobdell. And, yes, it was dirty.
In 2007, Gerard Way, lead singer of My Chemical Romance, caused many a fan to roll their eyes when he unveiled The Umbrella Academy at Dark Horse Comics. Shame on the doubters, as Way’s whackjob twisting of the X-Men concept, produced one of the most exhilarating new titles of the decade. As in all things, the proof was in the pudding. The Umbrella Academy, thanks in large part to the fantastical artistic stylings of Gabriel Bá, is a tremendously inventive sci-fi superhero tale that takes as much time in its melodramatic character work as it does its horrendous depictions of comic book cataclysm.
Keanu Reeves’ BRZRKR, like The Umbrella Academy, treads on familiar ground. The story could easily tie in with The Old Guard or The Highlander or The Eternals or The Mighty Thor. There is a gimmicky feel to the art as Alessandro Vitti has chosen to depict the hero using Reeves’ John Wick good looks. This makes it easy to imagine the inevitable movie adaptation, and once again, the cynicism sinks in.
Fight it. Believe in Reeves.
In talking to USA Today about the project, Reeves wistfully recalls his journey with comic books. While at camp as a kid, he’d dig on Richie Rich. As Reeves got older, his mother’s boyfriend scored him copies of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and other X-rated underground comix. From there, he discovered Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Marvel’s Ghost Rider.
While writing comic books was not originally part of his dream, the opportunity to do so was too compelling to resist. In BRZRKR, he imagined a character that could live next to brutal badasses like Wolverine. He has a teenage glee when discussing his creation.
“Yeah, I think it would be fun just to see him punch through someone’s chest or pull out a rib or rip an arm off.”
Such enthusiasm is infectious. To run from it would be foolish. More characters are good. More worlds are even better.
Reeves did his time devouring comics, and he wants to give back with BRZRKR. It’s a new realm for him, but he has Matt Kindt and Alessandro Vitti as guides. Such a pairing sells the first issue, no problem. The trick is convincing us to buy the second issue. That should be doable as long as BRZRKR achieves the same level of energy already contained in Keanu Reeves.