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Sleeper Season 2 #6
posted February 10, 2005

imageThe fact that it stands out in the context of the broadly infantile simplicity of modern superhero comics shouldn't take away from Sleeper's effectiveness as a straight-ahead action thriller. This book will end in six more issues, having published a total of 24, and will have enjoyed a sizeable serial-comic audience even by the modest standards of today. I've long wondered if that's because like other superhero comics intended for older readers, Sleeper isn't arranged with a superhero core around which reality flits, but takes on a pretty standard espionage pattern where the superhero elements serve as dangerous flourishes, opportunities for humor and a way of escalating tension. You won't learn anything about superheroes or why we read them after you're done. It may be the least self-conscious quality superhero seres ever.

What you do get is a pretty good spy story. At this point in the overall series, super-powered agent Holden Carver s trying to extricate himself from pawn status in a chess game between stained good guy John Lynch and something-to-him bad guy Tao. Issue #6 deals mostly with the unfolding of a crucial operation where Carver is now attempting to play both, and the manner in which he may or may not involve his maybe-paramour Miss Misery. There's also an "origin story" about a super-villain who absorbs the energy from gay men that lurches as close as this series has come to gonzo absurdity; luckily, it's funny. The telling of the origin story is one way that writer Ed Brubaker tweaks superhero conventions, but it's more like chasing something around and hitting it with a rolled up newspaper than putting on the stand or under a miscroscope. Brubaker's main collaborator, artist Sean Phillips, does a nice job of moving the reader through action through cascading panel arrangements -- his choices enhance the unsettled mood.

It strikes me that when Sleeper goes, so goes one of the last Wildstorm-driven comics of a very certain, very serious, kind of honorable approach to the genre, which didn't depend on mucking about with icons and found a nice balance between detail work and feauring writer smart enough not to get bogged down in minutiae. I don't even read books like this for the most part and I'll miss it.