Sleeper Season One
written by Ed Brubaker
illustrated by Sean Phillips
Spies. Sex. Superpowers. Secret identities. Holden Carver’s life sounds like every teenage boy’s fantasy come true. But it’s not all fun and games for Carver, the protagonist of Sleeper: Season One, by the team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. In fact, if he weren’t invulnerable, Holden most likely would’ve put a bullet to his own brain long ago.
Sleeper: Season One opens up with our “hero,” Holden Carver, being sent on an operation to weed out a possible double agent for the cold, calculating—and oddly likable—Mr. Tao, who runs the world’s largest criminal operation. Although Holden can’t be harmed (he has the power to absorb any damage inflicted on him and transfer it to someone else), he is still hesitant to take this mission. The reason, as the reader soon discovers, is that Carver is the undercover agent in question—a mole for U.S. government’s International Operations (I.O.) and the man for whom Tao is looking.
Little does Mr. Tao know that Carver is the spy, but it doesn’t matter to Carver. After discovering his partner’s (aka “The Nihilist”) status as a fellow double agent, Carver executes him without hesitation, setting the tone for the rest of this disturbing story. Carver tells himself that there were no other options—if Tao found out that the Nihilist was a double agent and Carver let him live, then his cover would be blown. It’s kill or be killed, and in order to gain Tao’s trust and, ultimately, bring down his whole criminal empire, he needs to play bad guy for a while. But it’s all for the greater good, right? Doesn’t killing one innocent man justify saving a thousand? These are the moral questions that Brubaker raises in his story, a tale where the reader is left pondering whether or not the ends truly justify the means.
While Carver is up to his eyes in murder and mayhem, John Lynch, Carver’s mentor and the only man who knows his status as a double agent, lays in a coma after a botched operation. With Lynch incapacitated and no paperwork to speak of indicating that Carver’s time as an operative for Tao has been government sanctioned, he’s branded a traitor and can never go back to his old life. With nowhere else to go, he sinks deeper and deeper into a life of evil and can’t help but begin to see the world in shades of gray. Yes, fellow agent Genocide is murdering scum, but he’s also Carver’s drinking buddy and best friend. And he can’t help but notice how beautiful Miss Misery looks as she gleefully kills a helpless old man. To put it lightly, “simple” is not a word I would use to describe Carver’s life.
But when a ray of hope emerges in Carver’s bleak world, will he be able to walk away from his new life? Or has he gone too far to ever come back?
Brubaker and Phillips, the Eisner Award-winning team of Criminal, have really created something special with Sleeper. The two men work together in a sick harmony and somehow craft a beautiful tale out of the dark, dirty, and disgusting parts of our world. Phillips’ art is gritty with muddy, muted colors, perfectly capturing the tone set by Brubaker’s writing while thrusting the reader into the world of Holden Carver. It’s bleak, it’s depressing, and you just want to get the hell out…but you can’t, because there’s also this sick, enthralling nature to it all that keeps you coming back for more. Like Carver being enchanted by Miss Misery’s murderous rampages, the reader can’t help but fall in love with this depraved tale of violence, corruption, and death.
This softcover—comprising issues #1–12 of the Sleeper series—is appropriately subtitled “Season One.” I say this because it reads like an HBO show adapted into comic-book form. Shows like True Blood or Dexter have only a dozen or so episodes to work with and thus need to make every episode count, make every episode relevant. There’s no filler. There’s no fat. Much like these shows, Brubaker’s writingis lean, engrossing, and tightly plotted. And taking a cue from its cable TV brethren, heends the first season of Sleeper on a cliffhanger that’ll leave you dying for more. And don’t be fooled by its title; if Sleeper can achieve anything, it’s keeping you up until all hours of the night to finish this utterly unforgiving tale.
Spies. Sex. Superpowers. Secret identities. This is would be any man’s nightmare.