Sleeper Volume 3

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips

Agent Carver (but Agent of who?) is even more out of place than ever in this third quarter of the noir series by Brubacker and Phillips. As he tries to rebuild his life as best he can given the results of the prior volume, his old life just won't let go. Soon both sides want him to up the ante in a game of chess between two masters. As Carver himself notes, if he's a pawn in this game, he doesn't like his odds.

What to do? Try to buy just enough time--and maybe allies--to get out alive. But what does Carver really want in the end? As he murders his way through double agents and loose ends, Carver tries to figure that out even as his boss (bosses?) grow impatient. Soon he'll have to make a choice--after all, even a sleeper has to wake sometime...

I have to admit, I wasn't quite as enthused with this volume of Sleeper as I was with the previous two. For one thing, Phillips' art drops off noticeably in places, becoming far sketchier than I'd like from anyone who isn't Bill Sienkiewicz. I understand that this is designed to be portrayed in a noir style, so there's going to be a fair amount of shadowy figures and ill-defined backgrounds, but I think he skimped just a bit too much this time. (Perhaps in the interests of a deadline? Hard to know these things when you read in trade form.)

The other is that a bulk of the goings-on this time feel like filler material, and in a series that's only--what? 24 issues?--long, you need to conserve space for the really important things.

It's true that we get to see Carver pinballed between Lynch and Tao, but somehow, the yo-yo on a string felt really drawn out to me. I understand Carver's conflicted in what he wants to do, but that's nothing new--we knew that from the start of the second book. Working through his stream of consciousness over the course of several issues, with the fill-in of the Tao-Lynch rivalry (which probably only needed a few pages--after all, Tao's origin only needed a few pages, why make this take longer?) on top, just kinda made me want to get the story moving.

If you think of Sleeper as a four hour mini-series, this is the third hour, where I just kinda felt like maybe we only needed three hours after all and would it be okay if I got up to go to the bathroom?

This is not to say that I didn't like the book or that there were not good things going on. Brubaker's plotting is very good--even if I think his pacing is a bit off--and the two major twists he throws in this time are doozies. I just think they'd have had more impact if they came closer together as part of a shorter version of what we got. His dialog is also, as always, top notch. If Bendis is the master of the banter, Brubaker is the master of speaking simply in the most complex way possible--perfect for work like this or Nick Fury.

There are certainly no heroes in this one, but the fact that just when I think Lynch and Tao can't go any lower in their fucking with Carver, Brubaker finds a way to make them evem worse is a tribute to his writing ability. (I do wish the women in this book were a bit less manipulable but that does fit in with the pulp style of the story.)

I should also mention that Brubaker and Phillips get in a great use of a classic origin story in this trade that is worthy of Warren Ellis. I went back and read it three times I found it so amusing.

All in all, I've enjoyed Sleeper quite a bit, even with a few qualms, and am looking forward to seeing how it will end. You should be, too.