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Sleeper #3 By Matt Martin
DC Comics/Wildstorm – Ed Brubaker (w); Sean Phillips (a)
See, this is what a “Mature Readers” line is supposed to look like.
There were a lot of jokes (many of them mine and I think all were fairly accurate) around my store that Marvel’s attempt, in the Max imprint, at creating a Mature Readers line simply amounted to saying “fuck” a lot and showing occasional nudity. So Wildstorm’s proposed “Eye of the Storm” line was met with nothing short of raw skepticism on my part. Granted, Wildstorm is the company that produced The Authority and Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch, but for every one of those, it seemed that there were a hundred issues of mediocre spandex-related books penciled by a wide range of poor man’s Jim Lees.
So I must say, I’m pleased to see that Sleeper has amounted to something both substantial and entertaining, as I had high hopes for it, based solely on its creative team (Ed Brubaker was one of the first creators, after Brian Azzarello, that I followed when I began following creators several years ago).
At the same time, I was a bit nervous about the book, as its central plot does not seem to lend itself well to continued survival. Put a different way, its high concept seems more suited to a limited series than an ongoing.
Holden, known to his cohorts as the Conductor, is a deep-cover agent for John Lynch (the eternal shadowy covert ops leader in nearly every Wildstorm-related book), infiltrating the criminal organization of a man called Tao. However, when Lynch is attacked and slips into a coma, no one else knows of Holden’s dilemma. Namely, how can he safely extract himself from the syndicate when the time to do so arrives?
It’s a deceptively elegant plot structure though, as Brubaker has managed, in his first three issues to effectively cover no new ground but still entertain the hell out of his readers: it’s all been backstory so far. It’s also all been exceptionally good.
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This issue is no exception to the rule that the previous two have established, as it does deal extensively with elements that happen in the story’s past. However, it’s clear that Brubaker is laying the groundwork slowly and methodically (establishing a global conspiracy of 100 Bullets-esque proportions and working Holden into it) and I would much prefer that to having it thrown together slapdash and having major plot movement sooner.
As well, Brubaker uses the looser editorial grip that a mature readers stamp allows him, but it never seems excessive, never gratuitously violent or sexual. Rather, the gritty elements of the story seem to fit naturally, as this is a story about a super-powered criminal syndicate; organized crime in our world is brutal enough, so adding metahuman powers should raise the bar more than a little.
In the end, possibly the most revealing endorsement that can be made of Sleeper is that it never relies on the events of the mini-series that it spun out of, last year’s Point Blank, keeping the book new reader-friendly. Instead, having read Point Blank certainly adds to something to the story, as I’m sure a more solid familiarity with the Wildstorm universe would (something that I do not possess), but lacking either of them will in no way detract from your enjoyment of the book. And when you factor in the fact that Brubaker himself has offered a money-back guarantee on his work, you almost can’t afford not to read it.