From Publishers Weekly
Holden Carver is a double agent, working in deep cover among some very bad people. He's become more and more morally compromised in his work as the body count rises, and he wants to come in from the coldâ"but the only person who can bring him in is in a coma. Carver is also a superhero, and the bad guys he's working among are supervillains. That's the ingenious premise of the smart, cool and cruelly funny Sleeper series, whose first story line is collected here. Brubaker's densely plotted writing recalls his early Lowlife comics' merciless eye for underworld grittiness, and he finds dozens of ways to use the metaphorical force of superhero comics to feed the spy story that underlies this tale. For instance, Carver's partner Miss Misery gets her superpowers from committing immoral acts. (Carver's own power, fittingly, is an ability to pass on the effects of violence performed on him.) The narrative's high-tension thrill zooms so fast, it's easy to overlook its bone-dry satire (e.g., a central episode involves the annual meeting of the secret corporate rulers of the planet). Phillips's shadowy, blocky art is far more noir than heroic-slick. If it's sometimes unclear what's happening in all the darkness, that's probably intentional, given a protagonist so clouded in intrigue he barely knows what side he's on.
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The comic book Sleeper, the source of this collection, centers on Holden Carver, agent for a covert government organization who infiltrates a mysterious, all-powerful crime cartel. It's a spy tale with a twist: though they eschew spandex costumes and the other superhero trappings, the characters all have super powers and colorful code names. Carver's own power is imaginatively distinctive. He absorbs the pain of injuries and passes it along to others, which neatly fits with the anguished emotional state brought on by the nasty deeds he's forced to commit in his undercover role. Writer Brubaker, known for his contributions to Batman, is a master of gritty, hardboiled dialogue. This proprietary effort lets him show off his considerable plotting skills better. Artist Phillips' storytelling remains masterful, and if his drawing has lost some elegance, it's still among the best in mainstream comics. These stories seemed rather slow-moving in their original comic-book incarnation, but in this compilation they constitute a page-turner that leaves a reader eager to see how long Carver can maintain his dangerous masquerade. Gordon Flagg
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