Synopsis: “SLEEPER could hold its own against any noir, from any medium…Brubaker is without a doubt the best crime fiction writer in comics today. ” – Ain’t It Cool News.com From the award-winning Criminal team of writer Ed Brubaker and artist Ed Brubaker comes SLEEPER, the story of Holden Carver and the secret criminal organization he must infiltrate, now back in a new edition collecting SLEEPER SEASON 1 #1-12. With his contact at the agency in a coma, Carver must live one day at a time in a deadly game of cat and mouse he plays with its leader, Tao.
Sleeper: Season One, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips 8.0
Sleeper is an espionage story featuring a superhuman (or post-human, as they’re called here) protagonist with the noir-ish name of Holden Carver. Planted in a criminal organization by his superior, who is the only one aware of Carver’s true allegiance, Carver is forced to take part in all sorts of criminal activity to gather information and eventually take down its leader, Tao.
The problem is that Carver’s boss at International Operations, John Lynch, is now in a coma – leaving him with no way out of the situation he’s in. Meanwhile, Tao is beginning to suspect that there is a mole in his organization and Carver has to find ways to keep the attention off of himself. To make matters worse, due to his cover, his old colleagues all believe that he’s defected.
And such is the premise for ‘Sleeper’, this collection of which is amusingly subtitled ‘Season One’. I was slightly confused by this when I first got my hands on it, but it’s simply a set of twelve issues, thus a full year’s worth, and a complete story arc. So I guess either creators or the publishers decided that it would be a simple leap to bind them all together and call it a season, for lack of a better name.
It turns out that it’s a fitting label, because the comic book feels very episodic. Even though it introduces us to our lead and takes us through a full segment of his life, many of the individual issues, or “episodes” (if one must play along), don’t contribute that much to the arc, sometimes being separate missions that only serve to flesh out our overall understanding of Carver and the world he’s in.
In that respect, Brubaker succeeds: whereas he’s not moving the arc along, he is shedding light into the situation on a grander scale. It’s through some of these “episodes” that we discover that the world is run by a shadowy group of world leaders who meet yearly to decide the course of events and that governments and corporations are just pawns in their games – that their machinations supersede all else.
Some of the episodes also set the stage for much-needed but somewhat contrived exposition, explaining the background of some of the key characters, such as his best mate Genocide and his lover Miss Misery. Carver’s own history is explored somewhat, but the origin of his powers (rapid healing and the absorption and rechanneling of pain) remain cloaked in an alien encounter that isn’t entirely explained.
Some of these explicatives may be rooted in some of Brubaker’s past work, as some of the characters (and, thus, this reality), stem from some WildC.A.T.S. and Gen¹³ comics that Brubaker worked on. These comics were part of the WildStorm Universe that Jim Lee created under the Image Comics banner, but which has since been relocated to DC Comics. So perhaps longtime readers can fill the blanks that new ones can’t.
Anyway, ‘Sleeper’ works well without it: Brubaker has created what at first seems to be a dark underworld in conflict with the law but is actually a multi-levelled force in the shaping of the course of history. Tao’s organization, in effect, while seemingly up to simplistic criminal activities is actually a misunderstood and underestimated player in these events. Carver is way over his head and doesn’t know how to cope.
‘Sleeper’ is not your average superhero comic, and it’s most certainly not for kids – it’s for mature audiences only. While it’s not the darkest entry in the genre, it is cynical if not dystopic enough that it might trouble some readers. It’s also unrepentant in its portrayal of violence and nudity, two staples of film noirs and pulp novels – major influences for Brubaker and key inspirations in most of his oeuvre.
As can be expected with Brubaker’s works, Sean Phillips is on hand to provide the art. His style isn’t particularly different from the one he uses for most of his books and I find it tonally perfect as an accompaniment to Brubaker’s words: it’s gritty-looking, not especially slick and gives the overall effort an edge that truly benefits it. If ever there were an exemplary partnership between author and artists, this would be it.
‘Sleeper’ has a number of weak points in the way that it delivers its various plots over the course of twelve issues, but it is filled with such great ideas and twists that it deserves a high rating; its weaknesses are mostly overcome by its strong points. I would love to see each issue fleshed out as television episodes. I think that it would make for a great series – should anyone choose to produce a show that was in keeping with its source material, that is.
‘Sleeper’ has an excellent premise and superb characters. I look forward to reading more of it. I may even try to explore the original source material to see if it might help decrypt some of it.