Quick Rating: Very Good
Contains: Twelve short stories originally presented on the Matrix website.
A satisfying sampler of stories featuring both worlds of The Matrix.
Creators: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Editor: Spencer Lamm
Cover Art: Geof Darrow & Steve Skroce
Back Cover Art: Kaare Andrews
Publisher: Burlyman Entertainment
From the beginning of the The Matrix franchise, they’ve included original comic book stories on the website, done by some of the big names in both mainstream and independent comics, and for almost as long, fans have been clamoring for those stories to see print. This paperback collects four stories from the first three series of Matrix comics online, giving us a very satisfying sample of stories that flesh out both the “Real World” and the computer world of the films.
Bits and Pieces of Information
Writers: Andy and Larry Wachowski
Art: Geof Darrow
Fittingly, the first story in the book is written by the creators of The Matrix, with art from the primary conceptual designer of the trilogy. This story, which ties nicely into the “Second Renaissance” film on The Animatrix DVD, is the story of the robot B1-66ER, who murdered his owner and was the catalyst for the first war between humans and machines. This story gives us a little insight into how the machines, created to serve mankind, were driven to a bloody battle against them. Darrow’s design for the robot is very retro, very evocative of the sort of design you would see in a 1950s B-movie or an Isaac Asimov story, which makes the brutality of its actions all the more chilling.
Sweating the Small Stuff
Story and Art: Bill Sienkiewicz
Sienkiewicz, a real comic book legend, does one of the most visually striking passages in the book. His scattershot, almost schizophrenic style is perfect for this brief story about a man slowly waking up to the reality of The Matrix. Unfortunately, the story isn’t too innovative – we saw Neo’s awakening in the first film, and although he doesn’t appear anywhere in this book, this story echoes his a little too much. It doesn’t offer us quite enough in terms of adding to the world the Wachowskis created.
A Life Less Empty
Story and Art: Ted McKeever
This story is almost the converse of “Sweating the Small Stuff” – it has a starting point very similar to the movie and takes it in a completely different direction. In this story we meet a woman who, like Neo, tracked down the hacker named Morpheus and was presented with a choice – a blue pill or a red pill. This woman, however, made a different choice, and here she deals with the ramifications of that. McKeever has a stark, angular art style that gives this story a real air of despair, perfect for this tormented woman who is forced to live with the knowledge that she rejected a chance at a greater truth than the world she knows will ever give her. This is one of my favorite stories in the collection.
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Art: Bill Sienkiewicz & Gregory Ruth
Sandman impresario Neil Gaiman makes a unique contribution to this volume in that he did not write a comic book story. Gaiman instead wrote short prose story with a few scattered illustrations by Sienkiewicz and Ruth. Gaiman delves into a facet of The Matrix that is never fully explored in the films – the nature of time in the Matrix. A man is forced to live multiple lives in the computer world, all leading up to a mission in a Real World he doesn’t even know exists. This is a great piece, and it really stands on his own, even outside of the context of the films.
Story and Art: John Van Fleet
This was one of the less memorable stories in the book. Van Fleet tells the first story to take real advantage of both worlds in this universe, computer and real, but he wastes it on a fairly generic story of a crew chasing down a person still trapped in the Matrix in the hopes of extracting him. There’s a twist at the ending that gets back to the basic premise of the films, that reality is not always what we think it is, but that point is driven home far better in other stories, not to mention the films themselves.
Story and Art: Dave Gibbons
The famed artist of Watchmen, and the writer of a recent very good run on Captain America, wears both hats in this brief, largely wordless and extremely effective tale that contrasts a man running from Agents in the computer world with a man still jacked into the Matrix living a fairly contented life – until the Agents crash in on it. Without even knowing what’s going on, the man is faced with a choice – the other great theme of these movies. The choice he makes defines both the story and, I like to think, most humans as a whole.
A Sword of a Different Color
Story and Art: Troy Nixey
Colors: Dave McCaig
Nixey has a really good visual style in his story, it almost looks like he could have clipped frames from an Animatrix short. The story is a fairly common one, the old “wounded soldier tells his story” formula, but he handles it well. McCaig’s colors leap out. This story looks better than it reads, but it still reads okay.
Story and Art: Peter Bagge
Bagge is probably on of the last people I would have expected to contribute to a Matrix comic, with the twisted, cartoony style he always uses, but he tells a really funny tale that I’m pretty sure most of us can relate to – a group of friends walk out of the first Matrix movie, two of them trying to explain the film to a third that just didn’t get it. It’s really short – only three pages – but really funny.
There Are No Flowers in the Real World
Story and Art: David Lapham
Not being a regular reader on the website, this is the only story in this collection I had read before, since Lapham included it as a flip book with last year’s Free Comic Book Day edition of his own title, Stray Bullets. A man is trapped in the Matrix after his ship is brought down and struggles to deal with injuries his real body sustained, but that don’t have to constrain his computer-generated body if he can think past them… and if he wants to escape the Agents, he’ll have to. It’s a really good, solid story that plays with most of the toys the Wachowskis created very well.
The Miller’s Tale
Story and Art: Paul Chadwick
Chadwick, of Concrete fame, tells one of the better stories in this collection. Shortly after the One before Neo freed the first humans from the Matrix, a man named Geoffrey became obsessed with the idea of finding and producing wheat, of bringing humanity real bread to eat again instead of the false loaves they had always eaten in the computer world. It’s a good, classic science fiction tale and, in the end, manages to add a bit to one of the main characters of the films.
Story: Ryder Windham
Art: Kilian Plunkett
Colors: Jeromy Cox
In one of the better stories, an artist begins to craft horrifying sculptures of giant, squid-like metal monsters she believes she saw once in a dream. People who see the sculptures are growing terrified, having nightmares, and an oddly familiar little boy takes it upon himself to teach her a lesson. This story is as much a statement about modern art as it is about the movies, and it works really, really well.
Hunters and Collectors
Story and Art: Gregory Ruth
In the final story in this book, Ruth shows what happens when a man in the Real World gains a Captain Ahab-like obsession with the murderous sentinels that plague humans in the war. The artwork here is dark and bleak and fits perfectly.
Overall, this book reminds me more of the Animatrix DVD more than any of the main films – it is a series of short tales, some little more than vignettes, that exist to explore the world of The Matrix without really changing or advancing anything important to the films If you like the short animated films, and I do, I think you’ll like this book as well.