Sleeper: Season Two

Sleeper 2Summary: It’s the final SLEEPER collection from the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Criminal). While spymaster John Lynch slept in a coma, his protégé Holden Carver was trapped undercover. Now that his star has risen in criminal mastermind Tao’s organization, Carver is shocked by the news that Lynch is awake. Torn between new loyalties and his original mission, Carver must decide whose side he’s really on – and if they’re on his.

This collection features SLEEPER SEASON TWO #1-12, the full second year of the critically acclaimed series by Brubaker and Phillips, plus the never-before-collected prequel story from COUP D’ETAT: AFTERWORD.

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Sleeper: Season Two, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips 8.0

Following Season One, John Lynch is back and wants to take down Tao’s criminal organization!!! Unfortunately, having now turned his back on the law, thinking that Lynch had left him trapped with no way out, Holden Carver now finds himself so deep in his cover that he doesn’t know how to get out. Lynch asks him for help, but Carver decides to play both sides, keeping his cards close to his sleeve.

His ultimate goal: to get out from under the umbrage of both organizations.

Thus he walks the knife’s edge, helping and sabotaging both sides at the same time, all the while giving them the impression that he’s with them. The problem is that he doesn’t really know who’s playing whom. Is he unwittingly doing his masters’ bidding? Or is he actually one step ahead of them? Who could possibly see clearly, see through these murky waters full of double-crosses?

Further complicating matters is the fact that his ex, Veronica, is back in the picture trying to salvage what might be left of their former relationship – not realizing how much Carver has changed. Meanwhile, Carver’s love affair with Miss Misery becomes a serious challenge because he needs someone he can trust on the inside, but she is disgusted with the man he’s becoming.

How will Carver pull through? Does he even stand a chance, caught in the middle like this?

Brubaker has put together a complex, tightly-woven final season – one with extreme moral incertitude. It’s such a hard world to imagine yourself in. How can Carver avoid becoming that which he is trying to destroy? He does so much harm and allows so much to take place all in the name of the purported long-term goal. How can he justify doing all these things if he’s to claim to be one of the good guys?

It becomes so blurred, so muddied, when one claims that allowing short-term horrors to take place can be beneficial in the long-term. How does one know that this “minor” collateral damage doesn’t have long-term implications? And, from a moral standpoint, how can one allow such things to take place and still imagine that one’s ambitions aren’t tainted? Where does one draw the line?

Obviously, these are not new questions, but Brubaker explores them in a way that makes the reader comprehend the challenges involved – much like ‘Mou gaan dou’, the original ‘The Departed‘,  did. For starters, one frequently gets the impression that Carver isn’t nearly as bright as he’d like to think he is. It seems obvious that he’s not seeing the big picture and is just making things worse for himself.

This is a relatively dark and unforgiving world that Brubaker has created. There’s some pretty twisted stuff in this series, no less of which are some of the villain’s powers:

  • Carver doesn’t feel pain – he absorbs and stores it and passes it on to his victims through touch. So he purposely takes a beating, takes physical damage only so that he can hurt others with it later. Thankfully, he has a healing power to go with this, so he doesn’t die from his injuries.
  • Miss Misery gets her power from doing morally objectionable actions, from hurting people, wreaking havoc, even doing things that are offensive to her. Basically, the more damage she inflicts the more powerful she gets. This causes conflicts in her because she likes doing these things as it makes her strong, but also has to do things she hates for the same reason. This is unsustainable on a psychological level.
  • While Carver and Miss Misery are hanging out at the local supervillain hide-out, we are told the tale of another supervillainess who got her powers by preying on her closest friends. While she loves them, she can only suck her power from them, killing them in the process. Talk about damned if you do, damned if you don’t!

Some of it is chilling stuff – clever, but deeply twisted, fabrications. And yet the book also its share of nonsensical moments, too:

  • There’s a scene when Carver uses his power on Veronica, because she wanted to understand how he’d changed. The pain alone should have sent her in shock, but she just rolled with it – even though it was through her lips, one of the most sensitive places on the human body. And near her brain. Surely there should have been greater consequences to this. But I guess it would have been inconvenient, plot-wise.
  • There’s a sequence in which Carver sets up his villain colleagues so that he can escape and have a talk with Lynch. Tao is in on it, of course, because he thinks that Carver has to pretend to fool him so that Lynch can trust him – but his colleagues aren’t aware of it. So it seems to me that the way Carver disappears in the middle of the battle would raise questions with them. And yet it doesn’t. How could they not distrust him after this?
  • Then there’s the small cliché of having Tao consider Lynch as his father figure. Their relationship is further explored in this book, but it genuinely over-tread ground to have the son want to destroy his father, or the creation destroy its creator. I wish it had gone in a different direction. It’s fine by me if Tao sees Lynch as a his father, except that a genius like him wouldn’t be tied down to such mundane emotional tripe.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

But, if there’s one thing I would have loved to see done differently, it’s the matter of the gun that Carver steals to alert Lynch of the betrayal in his midst (the gun was used to shoot Lynch, putting him in a coma – but he has no recollection of who the gunman was).

For starters, I found the fact that he could steal the gun simplistic. Just the fact that his plan worked so easily, and that the gun wasn’t even under higher security, should have alerted him to the notion that it was a possible set-up by Tao. Alas, Carver isn’t smart enough to come up with a more complex plan, let alone to think of this.

Secondly, what I would really have liked to see would have been for him to find out that his fingerprints were on the gun – not Grifter’s, as he expected. This apparent betrayal would have cut him out of Lynch’ circle permanently and effectively trapped him in Tao’s operation. It would have been fitting on many levels: it wouldn’t be a happy ending, and it would also highlight the dangers of outsmarting the masters.

Still, Brubaker’s ending was also satisfying; it was as close to a happy ending as is remotely possible given the context.

*MAJOR spoiler alert*

Sean Phillips continues to be a tremendous asset to Brubaker, the perfect partner for his works – he continues to add the right amount of grit and darkness to these books. As well, his framing and page design is interesting to say the least, because he doesn’t limit himself to the tried and true comic panel format. It’s not always an intuitive read, but it’s nearly so and is certainly atypical in a good way.

Like its protagonist, ‘Sleeper: Season Two’ is a flawed but nonetheless engrossing number. Granted, it’s hard to root for a character so obviously doomed, but Brubaker somehow makes it worth the read: one can’t help but hope that there’s just enough of a chance that Carver  will pull through. Brubaker also throws in enough cleverness to make up for the lapses along the way.

All in all, ‘Sleeper’ was a terrific series.

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