The Matrix Comics Feature

We’re back, following up THE ANIMATRIX article with a look at THE MATRIX COMICS. Offered free on the official Matrix website from 1999 to 2002, the anthology offered a range of stories by different artists and writers. While that website is now defunct, you can still access many of the comics through the Way Back Machine. Be warned though, the Way Back Machine can be spotty. While some pages loaded, not all do. Therefore, you might not get to read each comic to completion. More reliably, you can purchase physical THE MATRIX COMICS’ volumes. Even better, if you can last until November, there will be a 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. 

The anthology offered a range of stories taking place within The Matrix world or exploring its concepts. The “COMICS” of the title proves a bit of a misnomer as only some truly qualify. Others more resemble prose short stories presented with the occasional graphic or illustration. The book proves strongest when it reaches for the unique over the familiar. When THE MATRIX COMICS plays it safe, however, the anthology suffers. The book’s weakest offerings feature inert plots or stories that rely on cliched or predictable beats. Stories where the plot fails to go anywhere or revolves around predictable or recycled beats are easily the weakest of the book. Take, for instance, tales of yet another person being chased by Agents in The Matrix.

As a result, I can’t recommend the anthology with the same level of enthusiasm I pushed ANIMATRIX. Nonetheless, the sheer enthusiasm all the artists and writers have for the Matrix universe makes the anthology worth a look.

For a more curated set of recommendations, however, let me offer my personal favorites The MATRIX COMICS stories.

goliath by neil gaimain
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

THE MATRIX COMICS Selection: GOLIATH

A short story with art work from Bill Sienkiewicz and Gregory Ruth, GOLIATH is Neil Gaiman at his best. Looking beyond The Matrix’s primary conflict — man v. machine — Gaiman instead looks to the sky. What, the story wonders, does an alien invasion look like on an Earth ruled by sentient robots?

Playing fast and loose with The Matrix canon, GOLIATH ditches the idea of human as living batteries in favor of making them used for secondary processes. It is hard to see how the change was necessary for the story. Conversely, it is difficult to see how leaving the humans as batteries would have made the story impossible. Regardless, the change’s impact is small and fairly easy to gloss over.

The invasion itself is really just a way into exploring The Matrix as a concept in a deeper manner. Gaiman is very concerned with how the utter artificiality of the Matrix world inevitably touches and alters the things we have come to see as stable constructs. The concept of time, it’s instability in an artificial construct, the Matrix, and even the physical human body’s artificiality are explored. 

the matrix comics - goliath by neil gaiman 2
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Alien Invasion

As the alien attacks unfold, they disrupt the processors that maintain the unreality of The Matrix. As a a result, our protagonist experiences disruptions, pauses in his world. The battle escalates until the robots feel they have no choice but to utilize the human beings in the fight. The robots thus modify humans, including the protagonist, to be bigger and faster. He then gets assigned a mission. Pilot a new model PL-47, in the real world, to bring down the invading alien vessel.

Upon his success, it becomes immediately clear that his was a one-way trip. The robots never planned for the return of any of the awoke humans. As they explain, “We didn’t design it to return. It was a redundancy we had no need for. Too costly, in terms of resources.” Facing mortality, the protagonist requests a return to “… the real world. The other world.” Even after seeing the truth, he  wishes to live out his life in The Matrix as that feels more real than reality to him.

There we quickly realize that an hour of real Earth time translates into something far longer within The Matrix. As detailed in the letter to his wife Susan that makes up the story, upon returning The Matrix, he intentionally sought her out. They married and had a child all while his last minutes ticked away. He assures her, the “last twenty minutes have been the best part of [my] life.”

The instability of life in The Matrix — via genetic modification, wholesale manipulation by the robots, and the fluidity of the passage of time — reveals more of what’s so trippy about an artificially constructed reality. Gaiman takes full advantage of that, pushing The Matrix’s unreality even farther than we had seen before.

the king of never return - mcriver
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

THE MATRIX COMICS Selection: THE KING OF NEVER RETURN

This one’s a thinker, turning on a seemingly straightforward question. What happens when you get out of the Matrix, but also aren’t down with Zion? What do you do and how do you react?

In THE KING OF NEVER RETURN by Ted McKeever, the narrator reveals, “There are plenty of us out there. Zion is the core of the ‘wheel,’ and we are only one of its many rebellious spokes.” The rebels that the narrator has thrown himself in with treat The Matrix like a playground, in contrast to the more serious minded Zion rebels. Despite this free-wheeling presentation, however, we quickly see the narrator has far more going on then just having fun. We’re privy to the narrator’s meditations of existential thoughts and dissatisfaction with only being able to choose between Zion and the Matrix. 

the king of never return - mcriver
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

 

Rebels Against Zion and the Matrix

As the narrator says, he and his fellow pleasure-seeking rebels “look for things that remind us of us. Not necessary the ‘real’ us, but an image of who and what we want to be.” They state that they aim to be, “Free from the restraints of both worlds, the real world’s ‘rules’ of right and wrong, and The Matrix’s ‘limitations’ of individuality. Free from the oracle’s brain-washing matrixisms and from Zion’s allure.” As a result, they enter The Matrix specifically to cause trouble and attract Agents’ attention. They are, in many ways, like extreme athletes or perpetual risk takers of our Earth. They live for the adrenaline rush that comes with evading the Agents and the catharsis that follows.

The story investigates their confusing feelings of being wrenched from The Matrix and presented only with the ill-fitting Zion. It also points to how their actions are born of this. They choose what to do but their choices are inevitably pushed and twisted by the reality of their twin deeply uncomfortable options of existence.

The art’s line work  reflects this confusion and yet strange nihilistic certainty as well. It’s heavy and black, sliding from organic and fluid at times, angular and severe at others. 

The story ultimately offers no clear answers. Even as the narrator and his co-rebels’ stories reach a climax, the tale remains stubbornly opposed to taking a position. The walls of Zion and the digital prison constrict and control but also provide safety and connection. The rebels answer to no one but their every choice carries the potential for death or injury.

THE KING OF NEVER RETURN balances a certain level of a character’s introspection with fast paced action scenes. It’s both thoughtful and engaging and is a stand out among THE MATRIX COMICS.

bits and pieces
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

THE MATRIX COMICS Selection: BITS AND PIECES OF INFORMATION

BITS AND PIECES OF INFORMATION goes into the pre-robot domination world and the pivotal B1-66ER robot trial. If you recall our previous article, BITS AND PIECES OF INFORMATION is the source material for the shorts, THE SECOND RENAISSANCE: PART I AND II in THE ANIMATRIX.

The comic provides an intriguing picture of how the relationship between robots and humans was changing. The B1-66ER case concerns a domestic robot murdering his human owner when he learns of a plan to destroy him. He’s brought to court and the trial raises questions of a robot’s rights to live and and self-autonomy. B1-66ER is found guilty and is destroyed. As a result, his death inspires protests from both robots and human allies all around the world. 

bits and pieces of info
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Unique Interactive Format

The setup of BITS AND PIECES OF INFORMATION is quite unique from the rest of the comics in the anthology. It utilizes the fact that it’s a comic on the Internet quite cleverly.

Upon clicking into the story, you realize it actually is an interactive archive portal where you click on headlines and links to find information. Very much like the title, information is usually in pieces and you have to click around in the portal to find them. There’s a faux USA TODAY news article describing the B1-66ER trial and in another link, court transcripts from the B1-66ER trial. There’s also a detailed short comic that depicts B1-66ER’s testimonial and the murder of his owner. 

BITS OF PIECES OF INFORMATION is unique and interactive, and I’d definitely recommend giving it a look.

Matrix Comics Web portal
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Possible Directions of The Fourth Movie?

  1. Aliens…? Alright, this is a crack suggestion that we’re throwing out for fun. Though GOLIATH doesn’t go into detail about the alien invasion or their motives, I definitely think it’d be hilarious if the new Matrix movie brought in a third party. Inject aliens into the human and robot dynamics, Lana Wachowski! Let’s do it!!
  2. Stories of other rebel groups. THE KING OF NEVER RETURN looks at a subset of rebels who choose the truly chaotic path of seriously not giving a fuck. Rather than the binary Zion versus the robots conflict, it’d be a worthwhile dive into outsiders who grapple with that binary choice.
  3. Interactive format. This one is a bit controversial: I would love to see an interactive Matrix movie where a user’s decisions can drive the storyline. I think that would be amazing. BLACK MIRROR experimented with this in “Bandersnatch” to negative results, with many writers criticizing it’s bland characters and bloated storyline. But The Matrix is naturally well-suited for an almost gameplay movie. I’d be excited to see how Lana Wachowski would do a choose-your-own adventure or even just a movie where you need to click around to move forward in storylines or uncover new information. The downside is that this could not be a theatrical release. However, the Wachowskis have not previously feared jumping into different formats.

We’re looking forward to the new Matrix movie that starts production in 2020! It’s super cool that the Wachowski siblings have enthusiastically worked with comics artists and animators to produce further content. Both THE MATRIX COMICS and THE ANIMATRIX have expanded the Matrix universe in so many interesting ways. We hope we see THE MATRIX series newest installment push the boundaries and lore meaningfully forward too.

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