Sleeper Volume 2

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Sean Phillips

It took fricking forever to get this one from the library, but at least it finally arrived. (I shouldn't complain too much, since the library keeps me in all the books I can't claim to justify buying, but with this and a few others it just took SO LONG to get to me.) Ed Brubaker, writing continuity-free, can do amazing things, and Sleeper shows them off very well.

Agent Carver has a problem--his only lifeline to the world he knew is dead or dying and now he's a sleep agent without a way to wake up--or is he? Enter Sir Malcolm Jones, a former agent who knows where the bodies are buried. Can he help Carver get free? What happens if the plan fails? Can Carver take the risk? Does he have any other choice?

The decision our Sleeper makes sets the pace for the rest of the issues in this trade, as Carver dances the thin line of the double-agent, literally sleeping with the enemy, trying to keep one step ahead of those who hate him in Tao's organization while he figures out what the hell to do.

Normally, this running in place would seem like stalling, but the beauty of Brubaker's writing is his ability to find a way to make it interesting, with cliffhangers, computer intrigue, and a James Bond-like retired agent who's probably too cocky for his own (and Carver's) good.

Once the consequences of Carver's decision take over, the trade fairly flies through tense moment to tense moment. Tao smells a rat, and Carver likes cheese. When a heist goes south, it may be the end of the line for Carver. The climax meshes with Carver's own problematic mental state and moves us into a place most spy stories don't--what happens if the spy might just like it better with the enemy?

I'd like to single out a highlight of Brubaker's writing here, but I can't because the entire trade is so good. Whether it's Jones' assurance that he can't fail, the look at capes from the side of the bad guy ("fucking dweeb"), Carver's attempts to keep himself dirty (clean?) with Tao, or Tao's complete mastry of all that's going on (it's like Tao has Brubaker's script sometimes, which might normally seem out of place but he is written to know all the angles), the story flows smoothly from start to finish. This is a tribute to Brubaker's ability to plot things out from point A to point B, a trait I'm seeing on his work with Captain America.

Helping out with the mood is Sean Phillips. Though he still seems hell-bent on drawing naked ladies at the drop of a hat, his dark tones hold the mood without blurring the characters so badly you can't tell who they are. Tao, Carver, Jones, and the rest all get distinctive looks that can be identified easily, even in the darkest panels. I appreciate this a lot, as I can't stand it when I'm staring at a comic asking myself, "Who is that?" over and over again.

Sleeper is a great crime comic that fans of the genre should read. I hope I don't have to wait so long for volume 3.