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Sleeper Season Two #1
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Published by DC/Wildstorm

Just to be really, really clear here -- Sleeper is the most entertaining, complex and thought-provoking title currently being published by either Marvel or DC. Razor-sharp writing by Ed Brubaker and dark, spare, elegant inkwork from Sean Phillips guarantee that decades from now this book will be seen as a classic of the earliest days of the new millennium. There are better comics, but there's none better by multiple creators working for "the big two." When it comes to "mainstream comics," this is exactly as good as it gets.

If you're lucky, you're already reading this series and have been, like me, nearly lost without it for the past six months while we waited for Season Two to start. If you're not lucky, you haven't yet read it and need to catch up quickly on the best monthly comic on the stands. DC/Wildstorm has made this a breeze with the release of two trade paperbacks collecting the first "season," made up of 12 issues packed with action, espionage, treachery, betrayal and despair.

As Season Two gets underway, just about everything has changed. Holden Carver -- a double agent who got trapped in his role as an agent of a criminal organization run by the smartest bad guy on Earth -- has given up any illusions he had about eventually getting out of his situation and being recognized as the decent man he once imagined himself to be. With the help of a love affair with Miss Misery, he has embraced his role in Tao's criminal organization and is also, it seems, revenging himself on reminders of his old life when the opportunity arises, as here when he is pursued by a superbeing working for the government.

Brubaker plays it smart in depicting this new Holden; while we see him deliver awesome violence to presumably decent people, there's never the sense that innocents are harmed. So we retain sympathy and understanding for this conflicted character even as we see that he's falling even further down the spiral.

Holden's relationship with Miss Misery has become the axis around which his inner life revolves, and Brubaker has brilliantly thought out the consequences of her peculiar superpowers. She has to be bad, or she dies. She's fallen in love with Holden, so in order to survive, she must hurt him. It's a deliciously dark plot twist worthy of the very best comics writers, and a sign that Brubaker really has mapped out the rules of this universe and its inhabitants.

Phillips continues to be the MVP in the DC stable of artists. He brings so much emotion and movement compressed into his almost minimalist artwork. His sense of style is sympatico with the pop noir stylings of Brubaker's other major creative partners like Darwyn Cooke or Cameron Stewart, but Phillips focuses more on the noir than the pop, immersing his characters in darkness and showing us just enough to let us glimpse their world and imagine the rest of it with our own perceptions and life experience as a filter. Phillips is absolutely one of the best living comics artists, and he's working in a long tradition of excellence in the vein of such artists as Alex Toth, Wallace Wood and Bill Sienkiewicz. From the kinetic, Love and Rockets style moment captured on the cover to this issue to the dark despair evident in Holden's badly-timed walk-in on Miss Misery and friend, Phillips can and does depict everything asked of him with power, grace and immediacy. Stunning work.

Sleeper has been compared to some of today's best TV dramas such as The Sopranos or The Shield, and I'd be hard pressed to argue. From the tension this issue as Holden confronts a messenger from his former government boss to the gripping revelation of Tao's intentions in the issue's closing scene, Sleeper Season Two has already established itself as the most powerful and fascinating corporate comic being published today, a vital and thrilling series that I am grateful has finally returned from its long hiatus. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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