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Sleeper Season 2 #1-4
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Published by DC/Wildstorm; $2.99 USD ea.

While this new volume is garnering the same massive critical acclaim as its predecessor, some can’t find the same enthusiasm they once had for the series. It’s still one of the best comics on the market today, but very few people are willing to discuss what they feel is killing their interest in the book, or why. I have my own theories, which I will elaborate in this review.

The confusion is understandable; after all, there can only be good things to say about this book. The first issue starts things off well enough, recapping the events of the previous volume and setting up the new status quo while not distracting from a clean yet brutally depicted action sequence. Holden Carver, Black-ops soldier turned deep-cover superhuman, has embraced the super-criminal life he was only pretending to lead until now. It’s not a life he’s entirely happy with, but it’s not entirely removed from Holden’s previous career, as it revolves around the same twin axes of violence and lies.

From his perspective, we then check in on the three main supporting characters: Tao, super-intelligent and enigmatic agent of chaos, Miss Misery, Holden’s girlfriend (in the most twisted sense possible), and Lynch, fresh out of his coma and looking to re-establish contact with Holden, as we see at the end of the first issue. The three following issues detail Holden’s attempts to contact his former boss, while Tao and Lynch both manipulate him for their own mysterious ends. The damning part is that Holden knows that both men are smarter and more prepared then he is, and yet he cannot find a reason to do anything other than play along with both sides.

Brubaker has developed Holden Carver into a character that will stand the test of time. He’s become the anti-Spider-Man: The guy you’d be absolutely afraid of becoming. We see this man as he has been stripped of choices, feeling, and bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball between two powers greater then himself. Oddly, he is probably the only one who realizes that Tao and Lynch are not very different at all. As a matter of fact, one of the problems with this new volume is that Holden (and through him, the reader) has no real way to distinguish ANY difference between the two, and thus, it is harder for the reader to get involved when both sides are equally un-appealing. Hopefully, future issues will illuminate their contrasts.

Sean Phillips depicts the grim reality that is Holden’s life with a noir flair. Whether it's super-hero costumes, a Cairo hotel, or the stainless steel interior of a secret government installation, Phillips' minimalist artwork gives a grounded, down-to-earth quality. Because so many of the characters in this series carry layers (upon layers upon layers) of deception in their words and actions, Phillips rarely lets us see any hint of expression on his characters faces when they speak (for example, looking at the first four issues, I noticed that Holden’s face is almost always in shadow when he goes into "action," a neat trick allowing the reader to use his own biases to determine what Holden is thinking or feeling). Phillips shows us the contrast between Tao’s world of chaotic, rund down compounds and dilapidated strip clubs, and Lynch’s world of shadowed high tech tunnels.

The theme of the first "season" of Sleeper was apparent: the choices you make and their consequences. Holden chose not to act until it was too late, and then he had no choice at all. The drama was easy to relate to, as we’ve all felt pressures that we couldn’t understand and then screwed up when we had to make a decision. This season has a different theme: finding (and having) purpose in life. To successfully tell this type of story is something that is rarely done in any medium very well, and almost never in the sub-genre of superhero comics, where such deus-ex-machina such as "Destiny" or "The need to do good for its own sake" take the place of a real search for life’s meaning. I applaud the creative team for tackling this very difficult dramatic theme, even though it seems that they may have been too slow or subtle to immediately display the theme, and that this may cost them readership. I for one look very forward to seeing what purpose Holden will choose. Grade: 4/5

-- Michael Paciocco



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