the matrix reboot

(Welcome to Comic Book Drive-In, a series where comic and movie fans Jazmine Joyner and Rosie Knight recommend brand new, ongoing, and completed comic book series that tie into classic films and new releases.)

This issue of Comic Book Drive-In is all about The Matrix. Arguably the Wachowski sisters’ masterpiece, The Matrix is a groundbreaking science-fiction flick which was a cinematic representation of the siblings’ love for Japanese film, Hong Kong cinema, anime, and western comics.

We decided this would be a prime pick for Comic Book Drive-In as comics are literally in the DNA of the film – comic book artists were integral to the film’s vision, with Geof Darrow designing the real world of “Zion” and Steve Skroce storyboarding the original Matrix pitch – and we couldn’t wait to suggest some of our favorite books that complement this science fiction classic.

New Comic: The New World #1

The Talent: Ales Kot (writer), Tradd Moore (artist), Heather Moore (colorist), Clayton Cowles (letterer)

What It’s About: In a world devastated by a nuclear holocaust that destroyed five metropolitan cities in North America, society survives in “New California,” which is policed by a brutal, televised force called the Guardians. The New World follows celebrity Guardian Stella Maris – the granddaughter of the nefarious dictator and president Herod – and anarchist Kirby Shakaku Miyazaki, who hacks the government’s most-watched show in an attempt to wake up the masses. After a hook-up at an illegal rave in Long Beach, the pair realize just who they spent the night with and The New World begins to get a whole lot more dangerous for both.

How It Connects to The MatrixThe New World’s reimagining of a dystopian future and a society fully integrated with technology – alongside the protagonist’s aims of dismantling of the status quo – fit perfectly with the themes explored in The Matrix.

Jaz: I loved this cyberpunk science-fiction adventure! It gave me the same fun and cool vibe The Matrix does. Stella being a part of this televised police force where she’s always jacked into the world around her is a perfect parallel to that of Neo in The Matrix. He’s jacked in and under the influence of whatever force decides his worth. At the beginning of the film, it’s Morpheus and his crew, but later it’s Agent Smith. Both The New World and The Matrix are about control and the ability to obtain it, whether it be control over what reality you live in or, for Stella, what choices you make for yourself.

Rosie: There’s so much fun to be had in The New World. It’s a whole different vision of “dystopia,” one that’s beautiful and fun as well as being tyrannical and terrifying. I love the colorful and creative landscape that Tradd and Heather have built. If you can believe it, it’s actually the first book Heather’s ever colored which makes the feat even more incredible. The New World is one of my favorite books on shelves at the moment, and just like The Matrix did in 1999 it brings a fresh vision of a cyberpunk future.

Jaz: Heather’s colors are what really drew me into the comic. I’ve never seen a dystopia look so gorgeous! The Matrix has an interesting play with colors also – I like how they make the real world vibrant and full of richer colors, while the Matrix itself is a desaturated and green-tinted place, almost like you can see the code.

Rosie: I actually interviewed Ales Kot and Tradd Moore about the book and they were eager to say that the world they were trying to create was less of a dystopia and more of an active, realistic society that “is teeming with potential and actualization of much more positive ideas and ideals.” I found this to be such a lovely and rare thought process. Everyone is telling dystopian stories nowadays as we’re so close if not already living in one, so the idea of actually trying to create a living and breathing place that’s inhabited by real people rather than revisiting an overdone trope is really exciting to me.

Jaz: I think that’s a really cool and unique way to approach the story and look of the book. What I loved about The New World is that the two leads are people of color. Actually, most of the characters in the book are! It’s really refreshing to see such diversity in a book about the future. Most science fiction or dystopian future tales often leave out people of color in their narratives. It’s like we didn’t quite make it to the future the author envisioned. For me, this is the same reason why The Matrix is still so refreshing. It’s a sci-fi movie cast with a Chinese-Hawaiian lead and a diverse ensemble cast. I dug this book. Kot’s writing is funny and pulls you into this world of New Los Angeles in a way that feels somehow familiar and completely alien all at the same time.

Ongoing Comic: Battle Angel Alita

The Talent: Yukito Kishiro (writer, artist)

What It’s About: This iconic Japanese manga series began in 1991 and was undoubtedly a huge influence on the Wachowskis as they created their high tech dystopian cult classic. This manga is a cyberpunk classic focused on a young amnesiac cyborg who, after being abandoned in a junkyard, is saved by a kind and intelligent cybermedic called Ido. The series is still running today and it’s seen as one of the great masterpieces of modern manga (it is currently being made into a film of its own by Robert Rodriguez).

How It Connects to The Matrix:The world of The Matrix owes a lot to the aesthetic of Battle Angel Alita and many other classic manga being published at the time. The Matrix centers around a classical “Hero’s Journey” structure just like Battle Angel Alita, plus both stories focus on a protagonist who’s uncovering the truths that make up their world. The Matrix also takes a lot from Battle Angel Alita’s vibrant and exciting fight scenesm which heavily influenced the vibrant combat style in the film.

Rosie: Battle Angel Alita is easily one of the best and most influential manga series of all time. I’m so happy that we get to recommend it for Comic Book Drive-In. Kishiro has created such a fantastical and wonderful world that’s continued for almost 30 years, with the newest volume of Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle released this month. The first volume, though, is a perfect jumping on point, especially for fans of The Matrix.

The Wachowskis have never shied from the clear influence that manga and comics have on their works, and The Matrix owes a lot to Battle Angel Alita. Just look at the vibrant and expansive high tech dystopian world and the out-of-this-world fighting that drives Alita’s narrative as she battles in the brutal sport of Motorball. The Matrix has always been celebrated for its “unique” fight choreography and of course “Bullet Time,” but for those of us who are fans of anime like Dragon Ball Z, the films of John Woo, and manga like Battle Angel Alita, their influences are clear.

Jaz: I very much agree with Rosie when she talks about the heavy influence of Alita’s cyberpunk dystopia on The Matrix. From the look of the real world to the intense and gravity-defying fights, The Matrix borrows a lot from not only Battle Angel Alita, but also other iconic Japanese properties that Rosie mentioned, like Dragon Ball Z, and even Ghost In The Shell. With the ultra fast punches and powered up kicks, manga seems like a massive influence for the Wachowski sisters in this film. I’ve always felt like the fight between Agent Smith and Neo at the end of the film especially feels very similar to the fights in DBZ.

Rosie: One of my favorite things about Battle Angel Alita – aside from the incredible art – is the focus on the relationship between Alita and Ido. The first volume builds up their relationship so quickly and so well, making you immediately care for both of the primary characters, something which is often left out in a story that’s also so action heavy. Kishiro is a masterful storyteller and manages to make something that’s completely visually compelling that’s also heartfelt and connects with the reader on an emotional level.

Jaz: I really like how Kishiro shows Alita coming into her own. When Ido finds her, she’s basically a blank slate. She’s forgotten her past and who she was. But over time, we see her connect with who she is and how fighting gives her a sense of purpose. I agree with Rosie when she says Kishiro is a masterful storyteller. I was immediately hooked the moment I read the first page. The way Kishiro lays out a fight scene is so kinetic and wonderful to read – it gets your blood pumping like you’re actually right in the middle of the action.

Finished Comic: Hard Boiled

The Talent: Frank Miller (Writer), Geof Darrow (Artist), Claude Legris (Colorist)

What It’s About: This three issue miniseries was artist Geof Darrow’s first ever American comic, and was written by Frank Miller at the height of his powers. Set in a future hyper-dystopian Los Angeles, a bored insurance investigator wakes up to find that his vivid nightmares are real and he’s actually a murderous cyborg tax collector with the weight of a dying robot race on his shoulders.

How It Connects to The Matrix: Aside from its bleak cyberpunk story about double lives and technology gone wild, this cult comic led to the Wachowski sisters asking artist Geof Darrow to design the iconic look of the Matrix. Without this brutal and blistering sci-fi miniseries, the film we all know and love might not have existed at all.

Rosie: It’s rare that I ever recommend a Frank Miller comic, but you actually can’t talk about The Matrix without talking about Hard Boiled and specifically the artist behind it, Geof Darrow. Hard Boiled was Darrow’s first American comic and led to the Wachowski sisters asking him to consult on and design The Matrix. Hard Boiled is a very much a comic of its time, but if you like the intricate, bleak, and often brutal design of the reality of The Matrix’s Zion, you’ll love Darrow’s incredibly detailed and often awe-inspiring art. It’s not just the art that clearly had an influence on The Matrix, but the story of a man who lives in a brutal high tech world but is sheltered in a false comfortable life should be instantly familiar to fans.

Jaz: I didn’t know about Geof Darrow’s connection to The Matrix until Rosie and I started this comic hunt and she told me about him. When I dove into the strange and intricate world of Hard Boiled, I was in awe of the intense detail Darrow put into every panel. You can see his influence in The Matrix with the set design of Morpheus’ ship. Much like Darrow’s design of his world in Hard Boiled, the Nebuchadnezzar is lined with wires and bolts weaving through each room.

Hard Boiled’s story is a cyclical one, and it’s really entertaining to watch the main character relive every day in the same chaotic pattern. The central story of the cyborgs wanting freedom from their human overlords alongside the fight to wake our protagonist Nixon up from his false idea of who or what he is is very much in line with the story the Wachowskis presented with Neo. I enjoyed the parallels to The Matrix in this weird yet compelling comic.

Rosie: I totally agree with Jaz that The Matrix visually and thematically pulls from all over this book. It’s so vibrant, which juxtaposes brilliantly with the melancholy and bleak story that Miller chose to tell. I adore Darrow’s art and think he’s a massively underrated force in comics, and Hard Boiled is a really interesting look at the earliest stage of his career. Also noteworthy is the color work, which makes this stand out in a way that so many other dystopian comics don’t.

It’s also so interesting to me that the impact of Hard Boiled not only spawned the visual world of The Matrix but is still being developed as its own film 28 years later. As recently as 2017, a Hard Boiled adaptation was in the works, with director Ben Wheatley and actor Tom Hiddleston attached. I’m always interested in what art people want to recreate and Hard Boiled is clearly a comic that made its mark on multiple creative minds.

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The Matrix is available to rent on YouTube, Vudu, and Amazon, and you can find any and all of these lovely comics at your local comic shop. You are now leaving the Comic Book Drive-In! Read safe, comic fans!

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