Sleeper: Out in the Cold
Sleeper: Out in the Cold reprints the first six issues of the critically acclaimed superhero noir series written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips. Holden has been sent deep undercover to infiltrate the organization of Tao, a genius who’s always five steps ahead. The problem is that John Lynch, the man who sent him under, is in a coma, and no one else knows about the secret.
The book begins with Holden being sent to work with a suspected spy in the organization. If the other guy is shown to be a traitor, Holden’s supposed to kill him. These kinds of no-win situations are the meat of this title. Holden knows that the other guy isn’t the double agent Tao’s concerned about, because that’s Holden. So he can either endanger himself or kill the wrong man just to keep his cover.
Holden was changed by an alien artifact into someone who can’t feel pain. Instead, his body stores it, and he can pass it on to other people, which usually kills them. When he needs to get ready for a fight, he has someone shoot him. (He’s also functionally invulnerable.) He thinks of his ability as a “wall between me and the rest of the world.” All that’s left to his life is his mission, which matters to no one, including him.
The art is sharp-edged and moody, nothing flashy. As suits the story, it’s very down-to-earth and gritty, mostly in monochrome shades. Pages are often made up of one larger picture that sets the stage, with many smaller dialogue panels layered on top.
The book is set in the WildStorm superhero universe, and some may find the references to previous stories and characters off-putting. Those who are more familiar with the background may better understand the mystique behind Tao, for example. Without that knowledge, the reader must take more on faith. Stories also jump around in time, making this a book the reader has to pay attention to.
There are no good guys here. Holden is just not as bad a guy as some of the others. His mission is to make others think he’s a bad guy, though, and not much more than that. He rationalizes his killing with the ideas that his victims are bad guys anyway or acceptable collateral damage. He lets his friendships start making decisions for him, and his friends now are evil.
He’s formed a sort of alliance with Miss Misery, where they mutually use each other. Misery is an interesting character who’s been moved beyond her gimmick, that she gets sick to the point of death when she behaves herself and follows the rules. She can only really live when she’s smoking and screwing around and hurting people. Her choice is another version of Holden’s, to decide that her personal survival is more important than any other person, and she’ll do anything to stay alive.
Holden claims he has no control, that he’s a cog in much bigger plans and systems, but it’s a cop-out. He chooses to make no choice. The big question here is when do the means add up to so much evil that they’re no longer justified by the end?