Sleeper is a perfect pitch idea. A superhero goes undercover with the villains and then anyone who knew he was actually good gets themselves into a situation where they can no longer vouch for him. It’s a simple noir trope and Brubaker does a brilliant blend of mixing in super tropes as well and just flat out scripting great characters. This story, the entire first season of it, make for the perfect introduction to the world of Brubaker where it doesn’t matter if you wear a cape or not, or if you have super powers or just fists or a gun, what matters is your character. What matters is whether or not you can handle the heat and make the right choices.
Sleeper is littered with great character, one of which is the title sleeper, Holden Carver. He is just the sort of man whose questionable motives, emotions, and actions are perfect for Brubaker to paint this bleak grey canvas. You feel for Carver as he knows he’s stuck and his choices, in so many situations, are to make a run for it and risk his life or to just join in with the villainy and at least buy himself more time. Another great character is Miss Misery, a woman that stirs up quite a lot of interest in me. Interest being the mild word. She’s a sad soul who needs to commit evil acts in order to stay healthy and young. Brubaker manages to take this character who could have been completely one sided and turn her into a study of absolute pain. The rest of the cast are still human characters, even though firmly the villains. Because we spend so much time with them we see that they have their reasons for being whatever they are.
Having Sean Phillips on the artwork provides the best way to view Brubaker’s work. Phillips simply gets these words and stories like he’s lived them before. The collaboration is symbiotic and I could not imagine this story looking or feeling any other way. It’s dark and covered and feels like it’s been fed through an old movie projector that still makes the flicking sound.
Even if Brubaker were to just use the first trade, which comprises the first half of the first season and a quarter of the overall story, I think he’d still win over a bunch of lifelong fans. But with the whole season you can see just how long form Brubaker works, and how constantly great he is with a series. This comic is exceedingly good, exceptionally rereadable, and was maybe the third or fourth trade I ever bought when getting back into comics. Sold me for life. Plus, the second, and final, season is pretty nice too.