Sleeper: Superhero Crime with Training Wheels
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Packed with spies, double-crosses, superpowers, boobs, sex, explosions, conspiracies, cussin', and violent superhero/-villain deaths, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' Sleeper should be just about the best thing ever. The series—a head-on collision between the spy, crime, and superhero genres—follows a superpowered government operative under deep cover (he's a SLEEPER agent, get it?) in a New World Order-y supervillain organization, where he kills, maims, falls in love with a supervillainess, and tries to avoid being uncovered as a covert operative working for the sort-of good guys.
Unfortunately, after having read the hard-boiled crime tales in Brubaker and Phillips' more recent works, Criminal and Incognito, Sleeper feels like it still has training wheels on. Each issue begins mise-en-scène, which is a bit jarring (and feels unnecessarily gimmicky), and character development in the series usually comes via superpowered goons rifling off their semisympathetic origin stories while out on missions, which doesn't do much to endear the reader to characters with names like Genocide Jones and Pitbull. On top of that, Sleeper is steeped in the incredibly confusing and wholly uninteresting Wildstorm Universe, a mildly edgy offshoot of DC Comics.
Superhero crime books don't come along very often—Brian Michael Bendis's Powers is perhaps the most successful combination of the genres—and while Sleeper is worth a look for fans of crooks and capes, it's too soft-boiled in comparison to Brubaker's current crime books.