As the best selling comic of the 2020s so far with a record-setting 600,000+ copies sold before its debut on March 3rd, it's safe to say that BRZRKR #1 from Keanu Reeves and co-writer Matt Kindt with artwork by Ron Garnery is not only very eagerly anticipated, but comes surrounded by plenty of hype. That anticipation is understandable. Reeves is a well-loved Hollywood star known for his action films, including the John Wick and Matrix franchises, and the premise is intriguing to boot—a half-mortal, half-god killing machine cooperates with the U.S. government in exchange for what he wants most: the truth of how to end his existence after centuries of carnage and bloodshed. However, despite the A-list names attached and that excellent premise, BRZRKR #1 falls short of the hype. The debut offers just enough of a hook beyond what readers already know and too much that reads like another hard-to-kill, inhuman comic book character.
If asked to summarize BRZRKR #1 with one impression, it would be this: Wolverine with some Hollywood glam. In the opening pages alone, there are a lot of similarities between Berserker (as he's named in the solicitation) and Marvel's claw-popping mutant—a slightly shaggy and downtrodden appearance, a general sense of being an outsider—and those similarities only grow as the issue unfolds. It's quickly obvious that Berserker is a nigh unstoppable killing machine. Page after page of the issue is filled with the character killing everything in his path and sometimes in some extremely creative ways. While it's certainly aggressive and violent, it's also dispassionate—which might be the main way Berserker differs from Wolverine as a killing machine.
What's interesting, though, is that despite the pages upon pages of violence, BRZRKR #1 isn't exactly gore-filled. Yes, this is not a comic for kids in any way, shape, or form, and there are some very disconcerting panels, but Garney does a solid job of imbuing his artwork with that same, detached air readers get from Berserker. People are dying horrifically, but there's a hollowness about it all, which makes it easier to read while driving home just how monstrous the man doing the killing can be.
It is also noteworthy how sparse dialogue and words are in this issue. Most of the "story" takes place in the artwork with a disembodied narration sprinkled throughout in the form of a conversation between Berserker and someone else (you'll have to read the issue to discover who). It primarily serves as a voice over within a montage of violence and doesn't offer much of interest to readers. If you have any idea what the series is supposed to be about, then you already know everything the narration in BRZRKR #1 tells you. The result is something that feels much like a recap for those who are unfamiliar with the premise.
The bottom line is this: BRZRKR #1 is a lot of flash and hype that reads like a recap of the sales pitch capped off with just the slightest hook to pull readers into the next issue. It is a bloody and violent debut that somehow manages to be restrained in spite of its general lack of subtlety. The art tells more of the story than the writing and it remains to be seen if readers are along for a wild, action-packed ride or if this is just a claw-less Wolverine wannabe. BRZRKR #1 is a fun read, but it's going to need a lot more than the Keanu Reeves of it all to make the ongoing series worthwhile.
Published by Boom Studios
On March 3, 2021
Written by Keanu Reeves and Matt Kindt
Art by Ron Garney
Colors by Bill Crabtree
Letters by Clem Robins
Cover by Rafael Grampá