Sleeper #5

Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Sean Phillips
32 pages, color
Published by WildStorm/DC Comics

Super-powered beings are really like different nations. That seems to have been one of the sparks of an idea that triggered the creation of Sleeper, a relatively new series from WildStorm/DC Comics. It makes sense if you think about it, really. Beings band together, form alliances, confederations, and unions. So really, it would just be a matter of time until one of these nations would send a spy in to infiltrate one of the enemies. And that’s when things get interesting.

Holden Carver is a member of the super-genius Tao’s little empire. There’s very little that Tao doesn’t have his hands in—not just money, but entertainment, world politics, and anything else he can manipulate. What Tao doesn’t know, though, is that Holden is a sleeper agent, sent in to work his way up through the chain of command and send as much information back as he can. The only problem is that the only person who knows about Holden’s mission is currently in a coma and may never recover. There’s no record of Holden’s true allegiances (since if there was, the bad guys could find it), so now he’s stuck. And that’s when things get interesting.

Ed Brubaker’s stories have always seemed the most interesting to me when the line between right and wrong is made ambiguous, and that’s exactly what we’re getting in Sleeper. Holden is in a horrible situation, where if he doesn’t at least go along with Tao’s schemes on the surface he’ll certainly be exposed… but how many times can you sabotage a plan before the common link between a series of failures is discovered? It’s a wonderful dilemma that Brubaker uses very much to his advantage; these are stories with no right answers, and where Holden is discovering that sometimes the “bad” guys, in their own way, can be just as noble as the “good” guys.

Sean Phillips’s art on Sleeper has a rare combination of good storytelling AND a clever trick built into it. At a casual glance, it looks great; Phillips has always done a nice job of drawing people that look like people you’d see walking down the street, and in a setting where leather jackets and slacks are the dress code of the day, it’s a great choice. He’s also good at drawing the rest of the world, mind you. At the end of the fifth issue, where one of the characters is lying in an alleyway, the entire scene looks like it came right out of real life (or at least a movie), with the walls of the buildings and the rain splashing down on the street is given just as much attention as the person lying in the center of it all. And of course, one can’t help but note Phillips’s layouts in Sleeper, which at a quick glance are easy to follow and look nice… but with closer examination, are more than just arranging panel gridlines on a page. Every page is designed as a single unit, with the central focus becoming a splash image that takes over the entire page, and containing all the other panels that carefully arrange themselves around it for an easy-to-follow storytelling technique.

It’s a lot of fun to watch poor Holden slip deeper into Tao’s underworld while trying to retain his own integrity; ultimately, the question of if Holden can survive without being completely corrupted is a big question mark, because you really just can’t tell where Brubaker will take the book. Edgy stories, clever art, and an air of unpredictability… now those are all hallmarks of a series that you really should be reading. There are currently five issues of Sleeper published to date, and are on sale at better comic book stores everywhere.

3 comments to Sleeper #5

  • […] program. Then I remembered that before Criminal, Brubaker and Phillips had last collaborated on Sleeper, a series about an agent in deep cover in a super-villain organization. So that’s why that […]

  • Found this post while on a search of DC Comics. This was actually a really good series. Too bad it only lasted 24 issues or two seasons. The ending was pretty shocking. Definitely pick this series up and add it to your collection. Rumor is Sam Raimi and Tom Cruise are going to make a movie out of this series. Jury still out on that. ;) -Phil

  • […] for us.) And presumably, Brubaker is heading in a different direction than he and Phillips did in Sleeper, their other comic about an undercover mole in a super-villain group. But so far, this still feels […]