Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Sleeper Omnibus Hardcover Review

DC Comics - Wildstorm
Oversized Hardcover
$75.00 (2013) Omnibus
$24.99 (2009) Season Two
$24.99 (2009) Season One
$14.99 (2005) Vol. 4 The Long Way Home
$17.99 (2005) Vol. 3 A Crooked Line
$12.95 (2004) Coup D'Etat Trade Paperback
$17.95 (2004) Vol. 2 All False Moves
$17.95 (2004) Vol. 1 Out in the Cold
$14.95 (2003) Point Blank prequel
ISBN 9781401238032

Contributors: Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Colin Wilson, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, Tony Avina, Randy Mayor, and Bill Oakley

Reprints: Point Blank #1-5 (of 5), Sleeper #1-12 (of 12), Sleeper Season Two #1-12 (of 12), Coup D'Etat: Sleeper, and Coup D'Etat: Afterword

Synopsis: Holden Carver is between a rock and a hard place.  He was a promising agent for the covert government organization International Operations (I/O) and ran a black ops team.  On his team's last mission they recovered an artifact which fell out of The Bleed, an extra-dimensional space between realities.  This artifact grafted itself to his nervous system and essentially turned him into a walking pain-battery.  The trauma from the initial bonding was so intense it killed his entire team, but left him alive.  Holden recovered in a secret I/O bunker and was welcomed to consciousness by his mentor, John Lynch.
Holden is trapped on the wrong side of the tracks
When Lynch led a government black ops unit called Team 7, they were exposed to an experimental genetic enhancement compound which gave them varying psionic abilities.  He eventually went on to usurp the corrupt head of I/O and ran the organization at the time of Holden's incident.  Lynch, the master manipulator, could not pass up the opportunity of Holden's situation to place him as a sleeper agent in the criminal organization headed by Tao (short for Tactically-Augmented-Organism).  Tao is Lynch's arch-nemesis and a genetically bred super-human with uncharted intellectual capacity.

Tao is the only one who has ever played Lynch for a fool and gotten away with it.  Now Lynch has placed Holden in Tao's organization by creating the cover story of Holden killing his team and going rogue.  Lynch needs every trick he can muster in order to face the diabolical intellect of Tao, but will Holden be enough?  He has sacrificed his life including a public career, loving fiancee, and even the reputation of his deceased father (another spook for I/O) to become Lynch's cat's paw against a monster born of science.

Holden's powers are far more of a curse than a blessing.  The alien artifact bonded to his nervous system filters out all sensation from his life - pain, anxiety, shock, and pleasure.  It gives him uncharted recuperative abilities and makes him able to sustain an unlimited amount of damage.  He feels no pain and heals impossibly fast, but the artifact stores the pain he suffers and unleashes it on the next organism unlucky enough to touch his bare skin.  He can often store up enough pain to kill with a touch making him a formidable and untraceable assassin.  Holden is a powerful post-human operative and highly sought after asset by Tao.

Lynch meets Holden in the field to get an
updated report and give a cheerful pep talk
The organization Tao runs is peppered with superhumans of varying powers and motivations.  Holden's past and betrayal of Lynch make him especially attractive as an asset by Tao.  His own powers are subtle, but deadly.  He can use words as effectively as a sharpened knife and is the greatest tactician on the planet.  Tao has remained five steps ahead of Lynch at every turn, but Holden may be the key to finally taking Tao down.  Unless he knows.

Cole Cash, also known as The Grifter, served under Lynch in Team 7 and was exposed to the Gen-Factor compound.  He gained incredible reflexes and durability along with other subtle psionic abilities.  Cole found himself odd-man-out as a superhero on the Wildcats team, but he's had enough capes for a lifetime.  Now he's just down on his luck and trying to find answers at the bottom of a bottle.  Lynch trusts only a handful of people on the entire planet and Cole is one of them.  He gets reluctantly pulled into one of Lynch's schemes, but never really finds out what is happening until it's too late and Lynch gets shot in the head.  Now he's in a coma with no expectation for recovery.

Where does this leave Holden?  Out in the cold with no way to come back in.  The only man who knows he's a sleeper agent is out of the picture and the authorities want him dead for heinous crimes committed under the orders of Tao.  The problem is Holden has been deep cover for so long he doesn't know if this is his natural state as a cold-blooded killer.  He's made friends on the other side - the tough-talking, no nonsense Demolition Jones and skittish part-timer Triple-X Ray.  Holden has even got a lover, Miss Misery, who can only live by doing wrong (seriously, she gets physically ill if she's nice).
Holden falls for the beautifully evil Miss Misery despite himself
Will Lynch every recover from his coma or is Holden trapped in his own tangled web of deceit?  Has he 'gone native' and found a sense of comfort as a bad guy?  Lynch plans for every contingency, but does he have a backup plan for this one?  Will Tao discover Holden's double-agent status and eliminate him?  What happens when Holden encounters his ex-fiancee, Veronica St. James, who is heading up the manhunt to bring him to justice?  Holden is a pawn trapped between two master strategists and has willingly killed for both.  How can he possibly escape these two devils with his own life and sense of self intact?

Pros: Achingly cynical, supremely violent, charged with Miss Misery's sexuality, incredible writing by Brubaker who redefines the superhero spy fiction genre, quality art and iconic covers by Phillips, great spin on Wildstorm characters, nice plot twists, actually made Grifter cool, a worthy ending

Cons: Characters can sometimes behave predictably, uses typical crime noir tropes (although with a superhero bent)

Mike Tells It Straight: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips redefine superhero spy fiction with their critically acclaimed series Sleeper.  The omnibus edition collects the entire series (including prequel Point Blank and chapter of Coup D'Etat).  I found this series to be an intense page-turner and I absolutely devoured the book.  Holden Carver's plight as a sleeper agent among the villains and his descent into acceptable evil was an exciting tale.  Better yet, it's an R-rated tale with lots of sex, lies, and violence.  No silly costumes or moral codes of not killing - both the guilty and innocent die horribly in the crossfire.  It's a bloodbath where you feel more strongly about the bad guys than the good guys.  An absolute classic.
A glimpse into why Holden falls for Miss Misery (besides
and because of her constant beating of pan-handlers)
I loved how Brubaker took established Wildstorm characters and spun them into mature-readers versions.  He took Lynch, the former director of I/O, whose largest role was mentor to a group of teenage rejects called Gen13, and turned him into a master manipulator sacrificing legions of cannon fodder to accomplish his supposedly 'righteous' goals.  Tao was introduced by Alan Moore in Wildcats as a hero who turned out to be a villain with his own aims.  Brubaker perfectly expanded on Tao's motivations and exploits.  Marc Slayton, known as the superhero Backlash and formerly of Stormwatch, shows up as a soulless spook for I/O.

The master stroke for me was how Brubaker finally nailed the ultimate version of Cole Cash, The Grifter.  He's a total drunk burnout who manages to survive every confrontation through his enhanced powers and uncanny luck (maybe luck is one of his powers).  Possessing no ambition and an continuously being used as an utter tool by the two expert strategists, Tao and Lynch.  Grifter is a clueless force-of-nature in Brubaker's hands - the perfect dues ex machina.
Tao is a major badass and impossible to catch
The story is thick, noir, and full-on pulp fiction with appropriately murky art by Sean Phillips.  I've read it several times and it's still fun.  This omnibus edition is the ultimate collection with the entire story in one place.  The only other option is to collect (as you may have already) the individual series' trade paperbacks, the Point Blank prequel, and the Coup D'Etat segway story between the two seasons of the series.  I traded up to this edition and am very happy.  Brubaker and Phillips continued their winning partnership with many subsequent yet unrelated works - Criminal, Incognito, and Fatale to name a few.  I hope they continue working together for a long time!

TO BUY and Recommendations: