DC

Sleeper: Season One (2003-04)

Sleeper Season One  2009Some of Sleeper doesn’t age well. There’s a whole plot line about the secret society running the world and, in 2020, it seems like a very dated trope. To be fair, it was dated in 2003 when Sleeper came out, but writer Ed Brubaker was at least utilizing the trope to sabotage it. There’s also the lack of Internet-backed technology in the futuristic setting, which was apparently where what all futurism somehow missed. And when they try to mainstream the book in the last few issues, brightening up Sean Phillips’s blacks, slimming his lines, it’s a mistake. Ditto going from the handwriting font for the protagonist’s narration to a really slick italicized font. Doesn’t read well in the context of a collection; there ought to be a footnote about how they were desperate to save the book from cancellation.

I’d also forgotten the book takes place in the Wildstorm universe, featuring TV news cameos from The Authority; Brubaker does a great job of not making those connections matter much, outside providing an established universe with super-powered good guys and bad guys. The crossover character is Machiavellian crime boss Tao (created by the Original Writer himself!), which doesn’t come up much throughout and even when Tao’s giving his origin story it’s barely a footnote.

Origin stories are a big deal in Sleeper, something the protagonist, Holden Carver—good guy spy turned double agent, posing as a bad guy super-powered spy for Tao’s organization—and his colleagues do when they’re bored. The villains sit around and tell their stories. Except it’s only for the newbs and Holden hangs out with the seasoned veterans so it takes a while to coax their origins out of them, whether it’s Holden’s best bud, Genocide Jones, or his lady friend, Miss Misery.

Where Sleeper doesn’t age—can’t age—is in Brubaker’s plotting of the series, which spends the first nine or so issues with a two steps forward, one step back approach to revealing Holden’s story. We don’t find out how exactly he got roped into the super secret mission—and we still don’t know how his handler, Lynch, got put into a coma right before the series started. Issues take place weeks apart, sometimes following up on the previous issues’ cliffhangers and finales, sometimes not. Brubaker and Phillips end each issue for effect, sometimes dramatic, sometimes tragic. So it really burns when the narration lettering gets cheesy at the end, just as Holden’s having some big moments of revelation. You want the personality of the character in those passages, not feeling like you’re being handled so DC can try to sell the book to its stupider readers.

Sorry, it’s been sixteen years but I’m still not okay with how badly they bungled this series.

The first issue does a fine job establishing Holden and some of the world, enough about his mission, enough about Tao’s villainous organization, but focuses on Holden’s friendship with Genocide. Genocide’s an indestructible big lug thug. After Holden starts sleeping with Miss Misery—a chainsmoker who needs to inflict pain or damage in order to live, literally—Genocide’s the only one he can tell about it because Holden shouldn’t be sleeping with his coworkers. Especially not when she’s an occasional squeeze to Tao and Tao’s right hand man, Peter Grimm, mad crushes on her and already hates Holden.

Holden’s basically indestructible, thanks to an interdimensional artifact. His body heals, but builds up a charge of pain energy (he doesn’t feel physical sensations anymore, unless there’s some kind of pleasure and pain mix, which makes him perfect for Miss Misery). He zaps people with the pain energy; it can be lethal. Otherwise he shoots people a lot. There’s a lot of shooting in Sleeper. It’s not the most exciting visual (at some point you wonder how Phillips is still ginning up the enthusiasm for the action sequences, given none of the main characters is actually capable of being hurt).

The book starts getting really good in the last third, after the illuminati subplot, as it becomes clear just how much Holden is breaking down undercover and what’s going to happen when a lifeline appears. He’s got to question whether the lifeline’s real, but then the further question becomes… is it better or worse if the lifeline’s real. Has Holden crossed the line in his undercover operation. Sure, Genocide Jones and Miss Misery are far from the worst compatriots in a hive of scum and villainy—Genocide’s likable and even sympathetic, while Miss Misery gets the very odd combination of female tragedy and male gaze (even if it’s arty Phillips male gaze… there’s a lot of it in the comic)—but what does it say about Holden.

Brubaker’s character development work on Holden is somewhat ramshackle, thanks to the fractured timeline and narration, but once he reveals himself to be something of a softy, it’s not at all unexpected. Or unwelcome. A little sincerity goes a long way in Sleeper, which is effective, engaging, excellently executed (enough Es), but definitely feels like commercial product. Brubaker’s scripts reward the reader’s attention without ever dragging things out too long. Holden’s narration cushions the plot twists and reveals, with Phillips art capturing what usually ends up being sadness in the moment. He’s really good at tragedy and desperation. Less so the super-powered gun fights or the occasional superhero fights. They’re not bad in any sense, but they’re not where Phillips excels in the book. You can tell he’s not interested in them. The supervillain outfits, for example, get a good setup panel and then otherwise seem like a chore.

But there’s a lot for Phillips to draw in this book and it’s impressive how well he gets through it all. Like, he’s got to be doing supervillains and superheroes one panel and then Disneyland two panels later. It’s seriously globe-trotting, which isn’t always great as far as the character development goes but… delayed gratification on that front. Brubaker and Phillips don’t work to make Holden a sympathetic protagonist even after things start falling apart. He’s presented matter-of-factly, which probably hurt the book’s commercial potential to some degree. Though who knows. If the last sixteen years of DC Comics has revealed anything, it’s they actually didn’t have a chance with their dedicated reader base.

Sleeper was also one of the first comics to do the “Season One” thing, even though it wasn’t intentional… they had to try for a new number one to get the series some interest because trying to force good comics to become hits is difficult. The “season” ends on an interesting narrative note for what’s to come for sure, even if the thinner Phillips line work and the gaudy lettering leaves it in a visually far less interesting spot than it started.

Did it read better month-to-month back in 2003 and 2004? Probably. But it holds up rather well, especially given the many aforementioned caveats….

Like, I think there’s at least a boob every issue, which makes you wonder if it was an editorial mandate… did DC have data on how many copies they sold based on bare boobs? And while they’re sometimes arty boobs—Phillips is classically trained, after all—sometimes they’re just boobs for boobs sake, maybe three lines. It gets to be an eye-roll after a while.

Though… it’s not like there’s much characterization to the (two) female characters in the comic, which maybe you can get away with because it’s Holden’s perspective and all, but them both being exhibitionists is a little weird. No fetish shaming just… what are the odds. Are there odds? Do female espionage agents prefer exhibitionism? It, like an apology for that second lettering font, needs a footnote at least.

Batman: White Knight #8 (July 2018)

Batman: White Knight #8White Knight is fine. Murphy finishes it fine. The art is great, there’s some really cool action–imagine if a Schumacher Batman movie vehicle setpiece were good–and the dialogue’s occasionally really strong.

It’s not great. The sequel setup stuff is weak and a copout as far as character work goes. There are other copouts on the character work; Barbara and Dick are accessories, so’s Gordon. There’s nothing to them.

Other than the art. And Murphy’s love of all things Batman.

After dawdling through multiple issues, Murphy runs out of time in this one. Not just the sequel setup nonsense, but also with the action sequence. Nightwing gets lost. And the action sequence develops to something Murphy could really go wild with and he doesn’t.

It’s too bad White Knight wasn’t great. The art’s great and there’s some really cool things about it, but it didn’t achieve that initial promise of a new great Batman comic. Murphy should have tempered his ambitions, as they all turned out to be empty anyway.

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5 (July 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #5It’s the penultimate issue. I forgot there were six. I was hoping for five. Especially since the comic opens with the Soviets–in the fifties–talking about how eventually America will elect a complete idiot president and then they’ll nuke us. Or something. If Russell wanted to correlate with modern day stuff, he needed to do it. Not just as a throwaway joke to distract from the endlessness of Exit Stage Left.

This issue has a big speech from Snagglepuss to Congress. Tragedy has struck and S.P. is dismantling his life so he can speak the truth. It’s not a rousing speech. I mean, if it were a rousing speech or if he gotcha’d the senators, it’d be something. But it’s nothing.

At the same time as S.P.’s testimony, his play has its opening night. The recent tragedy informs the play, the rousing speech informs the play, yada yada.

If only some of it were good.

The art didn’t bother me as much as usual. I don’t know why. I don’t think it’s better, but it might be. Maybe I’m just so thrilled it’s almost over.

CREDITS

Opening Night; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Sean Parsons and Jose Marzan Jr.; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Terrifics #3 (June 2018)

The Terrifics #3The Terrifics #3 is completely false advertising. There’s nothing terrific in the comic at all. Certainly not the art; Joe Bennett and the three inkers have bad expressions and static figures. Not the characters. Plastic Man’s obnoxious, Mr. Terrific is a jerk, Sapphire Stagg is enabling her megalomaniac father, Simon Stagg is a megalomaniac, Metamorpho is dim; Phantom Girl is all right. The caveman is all right. Otherwise, no. And the writing isn’t terrific.

It’s kind of stunning how fast this book ran out of steam. Apparently all it had going for it was the promise of Tom Strong being integrated into the DCU. That promise isn’t worth sitting through the rest of the material.

The worst thing about the three different inkers–these aren’t terrible inkers either, at least two of the names are people who’ve worked on fine books (and I don’t recognize the third)–is there’s no visual continuity. There’s Bennett’s busy and visually uninviting composition and everyone looks a little bit different every few pages.

Terrifics has gotten to be anything but.

CREDITS

Meet the Terrifics, Part 3 of 3; writer, Jeff Lemire; penciller, Joe Bennett; inkers, Sandra Hope, Jaime Mendoza, and Art Thibert; colorist, Marcelo Maiolo; letterer, Tom Napolitano; editors, Andrew Marino and Paul Kaminski; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4 (June 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #4If Exit Stage Left were any better, it might be full on problematic. Some of Russell’s juxtapositions and analogues should cause more intellectual consternation. They don’t, however, because the comic isn’t better. It’s perplexingly mundane.

This issue opens with the government woman who wants to force Snagglepuss’s cooperation in the witch hunt out visiting the nuclear test grounds in Nevada. There she discovers the U.S. government is lying to the American people about their chances of survival in a nuclear attack. So, she’s already a bit of a tool, long before Russell demonizes her in a juxtaposition later.

Then the Snagglepuss stuff is basically his fake wife and his boyfriend getting pissed at him and so he does something about it. It’s like the C plot though. The comic really belongs to Huckleberry Hound, who gets a really depressing storyline this issue.

It’s become clear, four issues in, some of Exit Stage Left’s problem is the art. Feehan and Parsons are competent but uninspired. Russell’s already doing drab history with the inclusion of anthropomorphized cartoon animals supposedly going to make it special, the art should at least be enthusiastic. It’s not.

What’s worse is the art on the backup, Sasquatch Detective, is a lot more enthusiastic. Gus Vasquez is on the art this time. Brandee Stilwell is still writing. Still not a funny strip. And the cameo isn’t funny either.

Exit Stage Left has two more issues. Expectations keep plummeting. It’s not a bad comic, it’s just utterly pointless.

CREDITS

Doom Town; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Sean Parsons; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman: White Knight #7 (June 2018)

Batman: White Knight #7Murphy really likes deus ex machina plot devices. He uses three or five of them in White Knight #7.

Given where the series goes, I’m not sure he really needed eight issues–this issue seems like the always intended, not drawn out, penultimate issue. There’s a lot going on, a lot of crowded rooms with exposition, a lot of rushed character moments, a handful of revelations. Murphy recenters White Knight on Batman this issue, which almost comes as a surprise. Whether or not it’s successful is going to depend on the finale–Batman makes some hard promises as he gets out of Arkham and teamed with Jack Napier. Murphy’s going to have to keep some of them.

He can’t just have it turn out Thomas Wayne was a secret agent fighting the Nazis. The series’s early success came from Murphy’s willingness to reveal red herrings to be real herrings.

There’s a lot of awesome art–including the “Batman” TV show Batmobile getting some action–but the panels are mostly tiny. Grizzled Batman gets way too many big panels while Murphy’s gorgeous design work gets relegated to little ones. It might be Batman’s comic again, but it doesn’t mean he’s the most interesting thing to see. I mean, Jake Napier’s Jokering out uncontrollably, which Murphy does like a hybrid homage to Bolland and Sienkiewicz. It’s awesome art.

So Batman: White Knight might make it. Not the heights it initially promised, but some significant ones.

It’ll probably make a good trade. It could be a great movie (but not one of those animated ones… and most certainly not a live action one with Ben Affleck and Jared Leto).

CREDITS

Writer and artist, Sean Murphy; colorist, Matt Hollingsworth; letterer, Todd Klein; editors, Maggie Howell and Mark Doyle; publisher, DC Comics.

The Terrifics #2 (May 2018)

The Terrifics #2I wish The Terrifics were terrific but it’s not. It’s perfectly fine. It’s gorgeous DC superhero stuff. Reis’s art doesn’t particularly invite dwelling, but if you decide to dwell, you get reasonably rewarded. As for the story, it’s very much part two of the series opener.

Oh, and Tom Strong is a red herring. Let’s just get it out of the way. After the cliffhanger “resolution” with him, it’s backstory on Phantom Girl. Then it’s action, action, action, quick romance (I mean, Rex and Sapphire have to kiss, don’t they), then a little more action. The last bits of action aren’t particularly exciting, as they’re expository action. Reis and Lemire pulling them off so (relatively) well showcase that rare quality of the superhero comic book–it lends itself to expository action.

The cliffhanger involves why the team is now a team.

Good writing. Plastic Man is starting to grate. But only slightly. Lemire’s writing for him seems like a series of postscript quips to scenes. Too many of them. Though Plastic Man’s not wrong about Mr. Terrific being a bit of a dick (but not too much of one, Lemire keeps everyone affable).

We’ll see. So far, it’s totally solid DC superhero stuff. Might even end up being worth reading.

CREDITS

Meet the Terrifics, Part 2 of 3; writer, Jeff Lemire; pencillers, Ivan Reis and Jose Luis; inkers, Vicente Cifuentes and Jordi Tarragona; colorist, Marcelo Maiolo; letterer, Tom Napolitano; editor, Jessica Chen and Paul Kaminski; publisher, DC Comics.

The Ruff & Reddy Show #6 (May 2018)

The Ruff & Reddy Show #6It’s over. It’s really, really over. Finally. In what’s got to be the best issue since the first–I can’t go back and look, I don’t want to remember too much about the experience of reading Ruff and Reddy. I’m ready to forget. Ha.

So this issue has very little of writer Chaykin trying to offer commentary on show business. There’s talk about commentary on show business, but it’s bluster. The bluster works better than when Chaykin’s actually trying. This issue opens with a pseudo-Ain’t It Cool News website page. Because Ruff and Reddy apparently thinks AICN is a thing still. But other than that painful exposition tool? There’s not a lot of nonsense here. When Ruff and Reddy go on TV, Chaykin sticks it out and has a real scene.

And on it goes, with the character development Chaykin’s avoided for four issues, before a nice, sort of funny finish. I mean, if it weren’t vaguely homophobic. It might have actually been a good start to the series but, no, Chaykin plotted the thing out disastrously and it’s possible the only reason I’m a wee bullish on the finale is because it is the finale.

I never have to read Ruff and Reddy Show again.

I can’t believe I read it this time.

Nice enough art from Rey. He really deserves a better project than this one.

CREDITS

A Cautionary Tale In Six Parts, Part Six; writer, Howard Chaykin; artist, Mac Rey; letterer, Ken Bruzenak; editors, Michael McCalister and Joey Cavalieri; publisher, DC Comics.

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #3 (May 2018)

Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles #3I think this issue the series’s best so far. But it has jack to do with Snagglepuss. There’s a TV interview bookend with he and Huckleberry Hound and Snagglepuss is in most of the issue, he’s just not important to any of it. Not when there’s a Marilyn Monroe cameo, a full-on Joe DiMaggio first person flashback, not to mention the implication Snagglepuss is responsible for Clint Eastwood’s success.

Oh, and he finds Huckleberry Hound a boyfriend finally; because gay bar. Where Snagglepuss pisses off his Cuban lover with some of his comments on the Cuban Revolution.

Russell’s writing is strong and anti-dramatic. It’s a tedious read, even when it’s just a scene. Like the DiMaggio flashback. It’s interesting, historically, but dramatically inert on its own and entirely puzzling in Exit Stage Left.

If Russell wanted to do some creative nonfiction about how McCarthyism hit New York, he should’ve just done it. Throwing the cartoon characters in does nothing for it.

Decent art from Feehan, who’s better at people than anthropomorphized dogs and cats.

And the Sasquatch Detective backup is odd. It’s got to be perplexing to readers not versed in the right pop culture trivia and, even if they are, it’s still unlikable and not funny.

CREDITS

<p style="font-size:11px;">Actors and Stars; writer, Mark Russell; penciller, Mike Feehan; inker, Mark Morales; colorist, Paul Mounts; letterer, Dave Sharpe; editors, Diego Lopez and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

The Ruff & Reddy Show #5 (April 2018)

The Ruff & Reddy Show #5The Ruff and Reddy Show continues. It continues to get more and more embarrassing for writer Chaykin, who apparently decided to add some commentary on Hollywood sexual assault and harassment. Only not really, just for the opening summary page.

Then the issue is a series of not funny scenes with Ruff and Reddy in various television pilots. They’re all terrible modern television shows. Chaykin handles it all dispassionately. He’s just churning through. The reader, the writer, they get to churn through the pages without dwelling. Poor Rey has to illustrate this nonsense.

Chaykin finishes the comic with an almost decent scene at Comic Con with Ruff and Reddy getting into a fight. It’s not a decent scene, but it’s almost decent.

Barely almost.

I can’t believe I’ve made it through five of these comics.

CREDITS

A Cautionary Tale In Six Parts, Part Five; writer, Howard Chaykin; artist, Mac Rey; letterer, Ken Bruzenak; editors, Michael McCalister and Marie Javins; publisher, DC Comics.

Scroll to Top