Ed Brubaker came to many fans attention as the man who killed both the Red Skull and Captain America, but his work with the Vertigo imprint is something that may have been missed by some. Within this could be his greatest work to date, Sleeper. He had been writing a series called Criminal with artist Sean Philips which looked at crime noir stories, but he also was writing for the main DC line and even characters within the Wildcats universe.
Sleeper came about as a spin-off of a mini-series called Point Blank. Point Blank followed Cole Cash a.k.a Grifter from the Wildcats, looking into the attempted murder of his friend, John Lynch, and try to discover who the mysterious ‘Carver’ is as their name keeps coming up during the investigation. The series ends with us finding out that Cole was in fact the culprit. But Carver is never really developed upon, that is until the main series was ordered to expand upon this.
Holden Carver is a double agent within a secret villain organisation. As the series starts, the only man who knows his status is in a coma and other government agencies are looking for him as a traitor. The great thing about the series is the fact that these are super powered humans doesn’t really matter. This is a well written noir-thriller, potentially up there with the works of Dennis Lehane and John Le Carre, that investigates what happens when a man is left behind enemy lines and what that does to his mental state. Tao, the head of the organisation that Carver is involved in, is a villain on the level of the greatest of Bond villains – you never know what the end game is or if he is on to Carver. The series never folows the route that you would expect.
As the story goes on, the writing does descend as the double crosses, triple crosses and reversal become hard to track, but Brubaker does manage to tie it all together in a way that you don’t feel cheated by the ending. To say more would ruin the series as the twists are really what keeps your attention. There are also great parts of the story where the bad guys are bored on mission, they play a game called ‘Origin Story’ when they tell how they came to be within third person. Some of the characters in the main story don’t really have a large part to play but it allows Brubaker and the artist to have a bit of fun within this darker universe.
There have been discussions of a Sleeper film adaptation with Tom Cruise and later Matt Damon being attached. The latter would be a good choice as there elements of the Bourne franchise within the series. However this would make a much better TV series in the vein of The Americans or Homeland as there are twists and turns that would probably get simplified within a 2 hour movie and would be a shadow of itself. There are ties to a larger universe through the Authority and Wildcats but this is just scene dressing so could easily be explained away.
Even if Sleeper is never made into another type of media, this is a series that all comic fans should read as it shows one of the great teams in Brubaker and Philips at the top of their game.
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