[an error occurred while processing this directive] Celebrating Five Years of Pushing Comix Forward [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive] Sleeper Season 2 #12
Written by Ed Brubaker
Drawn by Sean Phillips
Published by DC/Wildstorm; $2.95 USD

Sleeper Season 2 #12 Going to the local comic store (for me it’s the excellent Campus Comics in Carbondale, IL) won’t be quite the same anymore.

With issue 12 of “Season 2,” Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips conclude Sleeper, their not-exactly-groundbreaking but phenomenal superhero crime series, which alone was enough to keep me coming back to the store every week to check for a new installment.

You’ve heard this before, of course. More has been written about Sleeper than most any Big Two book continually selling under 15K. Despite critical praise, much internet palaver and writer Brubaker’s occasionally wild stunts trying to promote the book, the series comes to a somewhat premature end.

Twenty-four issues isn’t too shabby for a new series in today’s marketplace, although the fact that Sleeper couldn’t even make it to the quarter-century mark says more about the marketplace than the book itself.

But no use crying over spilled whiskey. At the very least Brubaker was able to wrap up the series on his own terms and write an ending that, like the best finales, was both inevitable and unexpected.

For twenty three issues, Holden Carver has been beaten, manipulated, deceived and tortured, and finally he gets his bloody revenge. Carver, a deep cover agent, was torn from his fiance after a terrible accident that left him with superpowers. While spying on the criminal mastermind Tao, Carver’s only link to his government agency was shot in the head and left in a coma. In trying to free himself from a tangled web of espionage, bullets and broads, he came to discover that the only difference between the good guys and the bad guys was the color of their hats.

Brubaker and Phillips weren’t reinventing the wheel with the series. Sleeper is an amalgam of genres, John Le Carre meets Raymond Chandler as interpreted by the pissed-off zombie of Jack Kirby. While Brian Bendis, Greg Rucka and seemingly every other writer in comics try to strike a balance between the seemingly opposed worlds of bright costumes and film noir, Brubaker has done it. In most superhero/crime books the characters simply engage in superheroics in a noir setting.

Brubaker, on the other hand, has truly created noir superheroes. He takes traits prominent in traditional noir characters — the ability to withstand pain, the power to manipulate minds — and filters them through the hyperbolic lense of superpowers. Holden’s inability to feel pain (yet superability to transfer it), Miss Misery’s need for abuse as sustenance, Tao and Lynch’s hypermanipulative powers — these are noir tropes taken to a logical extreme. This seamless blend makes Sleeper impossible to distinguish as either a superhero book or a crime book; it is neither and it is both.

And while his characters engaged in the most unreal exploits, flying cars and absorbing bullets, the philosophy of the book was grounded in grim reality. The truth remains hidden. Nobody wins, nobody loses, and the individual (Holden, in this case) is easily discarded as opposite sides fight their way to an awful, neverending compromise in which everyone is tainted. (For reference, see Washington D.C.)

Despite the consistency of the writing and the success of the high concept, none of Brubaker’s ideas would have worked on the page without Phillips’ powerful visual interpretations. Phillips, with his wonderful motif of dark splash pages fragmented by overlapped panels, is asked to render laser beams, flying cars and aliens as realistically as pistols, rainy streets and office buildings. Perhaps the greatest signifier of Phillips’ achievement is that the series felt just as gritty and immediate when dealing with beings from outer space as it did during smokey barroom talks between its hardened characters. That blend of the surreal with extreme realism, the Phillip Jose Farmer with the Stephen Crane, is what made the book so compelling, so outlandish and so honest, and is why it will be so sorely missed.

-- Bryan Miller


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