There’s little room to read between the lines of BRZRKR John Wick Matrix actor Keanu Reeves’ first stab at a comic book. Dividing time between the past, where a half-god child is born to a tribe of prehistoric people only to grow into a murderous, unkillable savior, and 80,000 years later in the present, where “B” exists as a contract killer for the U.S. government, the book is a high-impact, blood-soaked character study with graphic ambition. Writer Matt Kindt (MIND MGMTRon Garney (artist)Ghost Rider) suggest their Hollywood collaborator threaded B’s story with his own personal history, but what the trio has literally put on the page is viscerally satisfying — if B isn’t ripping people to shreds in a ancient battle zone, he’s stewing in a violent history of his own creation, frustrated by the answers offered by the mortal plane. Garney, Kindt and Reeves pack every frame full of detail.
BRZRKRAfter its debut in February earlier this year, the book struck a chord among comic-loving fans. It was BOOM! after it raised $1.5 million via Kickstarter. Studios’ biggest title ever, and one of the highest- and fastest-selling comics in years. Netflix grabbed quickly the rights, intending to transform it into an anime and film series. One can imagine with two timelines, and 80,000 years of potential story to cover, there’s plenty to mine. And since B was drawn to look like Reeves, casting a live-action take on the character shouldn’t be too difficult either.
With BRZRKR Vol. Vol. BRZRKR#5 now out. Polygon spoke with Kindt and Reeves over a video conference to go back to the original conception and to ask them questions about violence and how they were able to tell an appropriate story for comics.
Keanu! I’m your friend BRZRKRBOOM! approached you to do a comic book, but was this an idea you’ve had in your head for a long time?
Keanu Reeves Yes, that’s right, I was there about three or four years back when BOOM! Studios in a general meeting. They wanted to use their comic-book IP for live action. So I went to meet with them and they were like, “What’s going on?” I said I had this idea of a character, Berserker, that kind of punches through chests, rips arms off, etc. And they were like, “Cool, we like that. Would you like to create a comic book? Have you ever thought of doing a comic?” And I said, “No.” And they said, “Would you like to?” And I said, “Yes, that would be neato.” So then they started trying to put a team together to create it. Here we are.
The action is key to the character — B is a killer, and the spectacle of his brutality really weighs on him. You all worked together to choreograph, design and create the fights.
Reeves When we’re talking about sequences, we think about them, invent them, create them. Matt creates it. We kind of give that over to Mr. Garney. Then, his creativity genius enters.
Matt Kindt: A lot of times the violence is dictated by the setting, like where we’re at and what we’re doing. Do you see horses? Are they tanks or horses? Is it a museum? Do we live somewhere else? So a lot of times it’s about context, and then I’ll take a stab at it, but then we’ll go back and forth. Keanu has acted out stuff before, where he’s like “This!” or “That!” He has the physicality part of it down. This is what I wrote about. It’s a good matchup.
Keanu, I’m a big fan of a documentary you directed years ago called Side by SideThe film’s cinematic image and nuanced digital and film processes was the focus of the book. Now you’re making a comic book, so I wonder if you’re thinking about what makes the medium unique when you’re imagining set pieces. What scenes are the creators creating that can only be done by comic books?
Kindt: Can you recall the music scene featured in Issue 5 or 6? But it’s like B’s talking about music and why people make it. It’s this whole sequence we talked about for a long time. What is the origin of music? Why do they do it? But then the way it’s drawn and laid out and like with the words over the top, that’s something that it’s gonna be hard to do in anything but comics.
Reeves I would push back and say maybe that’s montage, right?
Ron Garney You might find it interesting to combine the pieces with music. [in a film]. To add the Etta-James song musical score, I used panel borders. You could probably do that with the panel borders and then have it run and disappear in background.
Kindt: There’s another sequence where we’re showing the different relationships he’s had with women, different people, and then the timelines are all side by side. Then some stop, and others keep going.
Reeves I would say that it actually doesn’t become an image issue. This becomes part of the storytelling element. You can have more balls at the same moment with comic books. The ability to see the world from different angles can create a disorienting effect.
Kindt: What’s cool about comics is that you can see it all at once. And you can see the spatial relationships between different images, where in movies, it’s one line continuing forward. It allows readers to explore the world and take a look around.
Garney Ang Lee attempted to play with it. HulkIt was a huge success.
The gore in BRZRKRIt is striking and excessive. What is the best way to walk that line and keep it artistic?
Reeves It’s impressionistic. We just set the table, and Ron Garney creates a meal.
Garney That seems to be the one thing that jumps out at everybody: they’re all sort of blown away by the violence. I’m a little surprised, I guess, considering the uber-violent climate in movies and video games and things like that. However, the main difference that I see, and this kind of ties back to our previous comment about the differences between film and video games, is the fact that comic books require you to stop. [the violence], it’s there. It just takes a few moments to settle in. Whereas when you’re watching it happen in John Wick, for instance, it’s just very fast moving, and so you don’t have your mind doesn’t settle on the image for an extended period of time.
Reeves So when we were working on it, I would say the impulse or the ground of it is the context and the emotion that’s going on there. And at the same time, it’s a commentary.
Kindt: People aren’t used to seeing comics with this much and kind of violence. That’s part of what we needed to have because the other part of it is B’s reaction to it, his dealing with this violence. It is important that readers feel and see this, in order to see B struggling with many of the same issues we, as victims of violence, should also experience. What is it that we so love? I love violent movies, but…
Garney The moment he gave into his desire to do what you guys did was amazing. After his mother, he walks out of village. You break down the fourth barrier and he stares straight out at us. He just lets it happen to him and it’s so immensely sad. It’s a great sort of balance to all the violence that we’ve witnessed with him. That’s where the sadness comes in equal measure.
I couldn’t help but think a lot about Wolverine, who’s basically unkillable but capable of dealing so much violence. B also has a lot going on. He’s been around for many thousands of year and his struggles are even more complex. Keanu, did you consider Wolverine characters when you were conceiving? BRZRKRWhat is the best way to get started?
Reeves I mean, for me, it’s one of my favorite characters. It has a strong influence on me — it’s impacted me. But we’re also stepping into werewolves and vampires, so it’s trying to embrace some other legacy and traditional fables myths characters that we have, and do its own spin on it. We’re spending a lot of time with this character and trying to let people in on how he’s thinking and feeling and what’s happened to him in a detailed way that we don’t often get to experience except for some novelizations, but even then the monster is always kind of on the side.
I’m only thinking now you would have made a good Wolverine.
Reeves OMG, I’d have loved to play Wolverine.
Why did you decide to create a B-type persona?
Reeves [Laughs] I can’t say I’m innocent of any ego there. It was a discussion — how much do you want it to look like you? Do you really want it to look like you? And I said, “I do, yeah.”
Kindt: What’s funny is that, yes, there’s a superficial part where it looks like you, but there’s a lot of you in this book that I don’t think people know. There’s more of you in this than I’ve seen in anything else.
Garney Keanu was the first to hear that comment. I told him, “Look I’m doing this thing 12 hours a day, so I have Keanu on the brain 12 hours a day.” And it’s been revealing itself to me as being a metaphor for his whole life actually.
Keanu is BRZRKRYour whole life can become a metaphor
Reeves No, man, it’s a work of art!
First BRZRKR The issues that create the context for the concept of collection are called the issues. So what’s next?
Reeves The first arc tells the story of both the origin stories of the past, and of the future. And in the second arc, we’re going to look more to the present, but also look kind of more what’s inside the character — talking about love and grief, but then also get into exploring some of the new aspects of the character. You might even consider entering the God World.
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