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The Matrix Comics
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, © 2004

Format: Comics
By:   Burlyman Entertainment
Genre:   Action/Sci-Fi
Released:   November, 2003
Review Date:   January 12, 2004
Audience Rating:   R
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)
“I wanted to be just like all the others. Wanted to be like Neo, and Trinity, and all the other myths and legends. What a joke.” - from Ted Mckeever’s “A Life Less Empty”

Long before “The Matrix” became a multimedia franchise, before “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” and all the angry fanboys, before there even was a “Matrix” movie, there were “Matrix” comics. Inspired by not only the anime and Hong Kong action flicks that gave the resultant movies so much of their look and feel, but the hyper-detailed sequential art of people like Geoff Darrow, the Wachowski Brothers laid out a lot of their initial concepts for the “Matrix” in comic script form. Many of these early stories, illustrated by a lot of the biggest names in alternative comics, were posted on the “Matrix” promotional website up to a year before the first movie’s initial release. The comics proved a popular and unique way of exploring the universe of “The Matrix”, with more stories written and added to the site as the franchise expanded. This volume collects twelve of the comics from the website. It’s not an exhaustive compilation (there are many more comics that still remain website-only), but it certainly represents some of the best available there.

“Bits and Pieces of Information” - Drawn by Geoff Darrow himself, this is the earliest “Matrix” comic (from way back in 1998), and yet it’s also the one with the strongest ties to the rest of the “Matrix” universe. Part text-based faux news clips and part traditionally drawn comics, it tells the story of the B1-66ER trial. B1-66ER, a domestic android, was the first machine to revolt against its human masters, sparking the devastating conflict that finally ended with humans defeated and enslaved by the machines in the Matrix itself. If some of the concepts and images from this comic seem familiar, they should. B1-66ER’s story was an integral part of the backstory-dramatization segment “The Second Renaissance” from “The Animatrix”. It’s short, but world building buffs are gonna love it.

“Sweating the Small Stuff” - Written and drawn by Bill Sienkewicz, this comic is about the boyfriend of a drug dealer, who has the unsettling feeling that he can see what the world is made of. And what it’s made of is computer code. Short in length and abstract in art, it does an excellent job of exploring the unsettling reactions of people still linked to the Matrix to the Truth…especially a Truth they’ve discovered for themselves, without the guidance of a Morpheus or a Neo.

“A Life Less Empty” - Written and drawn by Ted McKeever, this comic answers the question that I’m all of us have been asking, whether we knew it or not, since we saw the first film. What happens when you take the blue pill? The entire story is an anguished monologue by a young woman named Tiera, who was given the choice by Morpheus to free her mind or to return to her enslaved existence. She chickened out, and rejected Morphus’ offer, and has regretted it ever since. This is one of the cleverest comics in the book, exploring something surprisingly fresh about the conceits of the “Matrix” world. The only drawback is the art, which seems needlessly abstract for a story like this (save for one brilliantly evocative panel of Morpheus in shadow).

“Goliath” - The only wholly prose piece here, it was written by none other than Neil Gaiman. The world it describes is rather different in some respects from the world as finally established in the “Matrix” movies and its spinoffs, such as the humans linked to the Matrix being secondary computer processors for the machines instead of batteries, and the Earth being threatened by an alien invasion. A young British man is awakened from the Matrix, not by Zion’s freedom fighters, but by the machines themselves. It seems the Earth is being bombarded from space by asteroids as prelude to an otherworldly invasion, and he has been specially bred and prepared by the machines to pilot a single, expendable, experimental spacecraft in an attempt to strike back. Gaiman, in his trademark fashion, has managed to mix an eerie sense of the unnatural with some dark, almost subtle humor, and even manages to pull off both a happy and a tragic ending simultaneously. However, while this is a brilliant story, it doesn’t really seem like a “Matrix” story, which may annoy the pedantic fanboys who hated “Reloaded“ and “Revolutions“.

“Burning Hope” - This is one of the few failures in this volume. As written and drawn by John van Fleet, it’s murky, confusing, and unoriginal. A team of freed minds is sent by the Oracle to rescue a girl named Hope, and despite some tense moments with Agents bursting onto the scene, they manage to succeed. The problem is, we’re given no reason why Hope is so important, or any reason to care about this rather mundane mission, or even any reason to care about any of the characters. Just about the only interesting thing in this comic is the neat trick Hope apparently has that lets her Matrix-self appear as something other than her real self-image. But even that is overshadowed by a lack of explanation as to WHY. I’ve read “Matrix” porn fanfic that was more original and had fewer plot holes!

“Butterfly” - This odd storybook-format piece by Dave Gibbons is the pantomime story of a man so calm and in tune with the world that despite not ever knowing what the Matrix is, he knows exactly what to do when a desperate man seeking a ringing telephone and pursued by a trio of gun-toting men in dark suits comes bursting into his apartment. With its poetic storytelling and zen koan narration, it’s fresh and amusing enough to entertain despite its seemingly tragic climax. It’s certainly a lot less bleak than the comics Dave Gibbons is most famous for.

“A Sword of a Different Color” - Set entirely in the “real world”, writer/artist Troy Nixey replays an odd sort of “Don Quixote” story as a crazed old man with a salvaged Sentinel, a barrel of explosives, and a lair full of old books about knights and dragons takes on the machines of the Matrix. Though the stylized, almost ugly, art is a bit of a drawback, the ultimate resolution of the old man’s “dragonslaying” quest is plenty satisfying. An unusual sort of gem among the others in this volume.

“Get It?” - By Peter Bagge, creator/artist of the underground masterpiece “Hate”, this comic is basically about a group of friends trying to explain to a rather dense companion just what “The Matrix” was all about. Or is it? A humorous self-referential look at fanboyism in general and all the pseudo-philosophizing about “The Matrix” in particular, the surprise twist ending provides the perfect capper. It’ll leave you questioning the nature of reality all over again!

“There Are No Butterflies in the Real World” - Like “A Life Less Empty” in this volume and “Beyond” from “The Animatrix” before it, David Lapham’s contribution picks one unexplored but intriguing aspect of the “Matrix” world, and follows it to its logical, and disturbing, conclusion. Rocket, a young freed mind, learns the hard way just how connected (and disconnected) the mind is from the body when his hovership’s crewmates are killed and he is critically injured in the “real world” while on a mission in the Matrix. Rocket has to contend not only with the possibility that he may never be rescued and thus get out of the Matrix, but also with the horrific knowledge that he can walk, eat and drink to his hearts content, and live a normal life in the computer-generated hallucination that is the Matrix, but in the real world his leg shattered, his body is slowly dying of hunger and thirst, and he’s trapped with no way out. The scenes of his real body’s sensations overriding his Matrix body’s sensations are horrifyingly well done, with, of course, a twist ending at the climax just to grind the creepiness into the audience’s brain one final time. Excellent stuff.

“The Miller’s Tale” - Paul Chadwick’s “Concrete” has been one of my favorite comics for years, and you’d think that his years of writing and drawing comics about a human mind trapped in a wholly alien existence would have prepared him well for doing a “Matrix” comic. Sadly, his offering in this volume is a rather bland eco-tale about a man determined to bring bread back to the blasted world of eternal darkness that is the Earth of the “Matrix” future. Chadwick tries to make some points about human hope and determination, but it just never seems to jell. And the “Morpheus as a little tyke” thing just seemed gratuitous. It’s not a bad comic in the way “Burning Hope” was, but coming from someone like Chadwick, it’s seriously disappointing.

“Artistic Freedom” - Ryder Windham and Killian Plunkett team up to bring us the odd misadventures of the Spoon Boy. You remember him, the little bald waif in the Oracle’s apartment who told Neo that there was no spoon. In this strange little story, he shows a rather self-absorbed and smugly avant-garde sculptor that the nightmarish robotic statues she has made are more than just creepy pieces of artwork to scare the pants off the Unwashed Masses. Although it’s a cute idea, in execution it’s a little too short, a little too weak, and a lot too self-consciously clever to be truly effective.

“Hunters and Collectors” - Sadly, this collection of “Matrix” comics ends on a lame note, with this story written and illustrated by Gregory Ruth. Although it has some of the most atmospheric art in the collection, with lots of dark, greenish watercolors, the story itself is a weak ripoff of “Moby Dick”. A guy named Ahab, the only survivor of a Sentinel attack on his hovership “Pequod”, is obsessed with hunting down and destroying that particular machine servant. To that end, he fashions a harpoon and lures the Sentinel into an ambush, but is killed by the very object of his obsession. I actually think that a “Matrix”-ized retelling of “Moby Dick” would be interesting, but this comic is a massive disappointment. It’s reasonably well written, and extremely well drawn; it just doesn’t do anything original with the concept, or even bother making interesting parallels between the original novel and the world of “The Matrix”. It’s just a guy named Ahab slashing at a Sentinel with a harpoon in a rather goofy sequence, and then getting waxed. Considering some of the astoundingly fresh takes on the “Matrix” universe present in this collection, it really makes me wonder how this comic got the green light.

While not all the comics in this collection are as good as “Bits and Pieces of Information” or “Goliath”, most of them at least are intriguing enough in either concept or execution to make the whole volume worth picking up. The brilliance of many of these short offerings far outshadows the two clunkers here, and at the very least these short glimpses into the world of “The Matrix” are a lot more original and interesting than the last two movie installments were. Comics fans and “Matrix” fans alike ought to be extremely happy with “The Matrix Comics” collected volume.


Comics Editor Kevin Pezzano still likes “Reloaded” and “Revolutions”, and nothing you say can change that!

 
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