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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 146: Sleepwalker #3

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Sleepwalker #3, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated August 1991. Enjoy!

Is this comic NC-17?

For some first pages, context is everything. If you happened to pick this comic up in 1991 and simply opened to the first page without knowing anything about the series itself or the history of cheesecake pop culture, you might think this is a horribly exploitative page. If you turned the page, you would learn that it’s not, but just seeing this page might enrage you. If you know a bit about the history of cheesecake in popular culture, you’d probably appreciate it as a homage to the goofy science fiction movies/books/comics of a bygone era. When we turn the page, we find out that this is a movie, and it’s pretty obviously a deliberate parody – the movie is even called I Married a Martian. So despite the fact that the young lady is wearing what appears to be dental floss and she’s being menaced by a giant man/alien who obviously wants to rape her, what we bring to the table culturally informs our understanding of what’s going on, even if we haven’t bought the first two issues of this short-lived series. This is where cultural knowledge comes to the fore – context really is very important when we look at art, and that includes the first page of a minor and largely forgotten (except by Bill Reed!) series from the early 1990s.

Marvel was still providing the scroll at the top in some of their books in these days, so we find out that the book is about Rick Sheridan, a college student (he’s in Film Studies, we learn later in the issue) who one day started seeing a strange being called Sleepwalker in his dreams and then in real life. So Rick is afraid to fall asleep because he doesn’t want to let Sleepwalker out. This is a problem, in case you’re wondering. Bob Budiansky doesn’t really care too much about providing any other information, because he wants to start the comic with this off-kilter splash page, in which the Martian and the girl spout hokey dialogue that’s deliberately corny. Bret Blevins does a fine job with the page, though. The Martian is ugly, of course, and subtly horrifying, sexually (this is back before Marvel and DC added too much blatant sexual imagery to their books, so it had to be subtle): The single eye is suggestive of a penis, while the long, tendril-like fingers are far too sensual for such a brutish monster. The Martian is stalking toward the young lady (her name is Alyssa, by the way), but that opens up his legs, making his crotch more prominent. While his left hand clutches Alyssa’s wrist, the right one reaches around her toward her breasts – her nipple is even pointing directly at a finger. She’s trying to get away, of course, but Blevins still draws her back arched and her hips thrust backward toward his groin. Obviously, the thong she’s wearing draws our attention to her pubic area, while the Martian’s hand draws our attention to her heaving breasts. Blevins gives the Martian a leering, gaping mouth, with the two pointed teeth somehow more disturbing than if he had a mouthful of them, while Alyssa’s scared expression is also deliberately sexy, with the pouty lips and high cheekbones. It’s an astonishingly sexual pose, and even though it’s a parody of poses like it from days gone by, it retains its power. Budiansky colors this book, and while green is a stereotypical color for Martians, it’s also a sickly color, so it adds to the queasiness we’re supposed to feel when we watch this brute about to ravish an innocent woman. He and Blevins also add thick, ugly lines to the Martian’s crotch, again drawing our attention to it and adding to our revulsion. Purple is the royal color, of course, so Budiansky is implying that Alyssa is some kind of worthy person (she’s just an “Earth-woman,” according to the Martian) who doesn’t deserve her fate. Of course, no one deserves this fate, but we have to remember that this is a parodic drawing, so the implication that she is somehow “important” and therefore more deserving of our sympathy is, I think, deliberate. Finally, we have Chris Eliopoulos (presumably) designing the name of the issue, where the “madness” is shaky and tilted. The title works both for this page and the issue itself.

It’s impressive how much symbolism is packed onto this page, and even if not all of it’s deliberate (Blevins may have just thought Cyclopses were cool-looking), it’s still very cool how much Blevins and Budiansky can imply here. Sleepwalker might not be your favorite comic or you might not even have ever heard of it, but we still get some cool storytelling on this splash page, don’t we?

Next: Not the John Ostrander series you might want, but perhaps the John Ostrander series you NEED!!!! I’m surprised Mr. Ostrander hasn’t shown up yet in the archives, but it’s true!

15 Comments

Sleepwalker was a really great comic. It played with ideas that were much more unique than much of what was coming out of the 90s. Marvel should really consider releasing some of these in a TPB.

Ah, Sleepwalker, my favorite Marvel series of the 90s. Yes, even moreso than Ravage 2099, and just a smidgen better than Thunderstrike. I’m probably the only one who went back on purpose to seek out and buy every issue of this series.

This one’s not really indicative of the series, but it’s a nice display of some fine Bret Blevins art. Not many people seem to appreciate Blevins, but he was terrific on this series.

Basically what I’m saying is this was Sandman done right.

Bill: I’ve always liked Blevins. I always wondered why he didn’t work more.

Great write-up, and yes, Bret Blevins is a boss.

@ Greg & Bill & everyone else, i guess.

Here’s why Blevins didn’t get more work. i hate his artwork for the most part.

There you go!

some stupid japanese name

May 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Darn you Bill Reed, I was going to throw out that Sandman line.
I recall hearing it back in the day, but can’t remember who it was attributed to.
I would hope it wasn’t Budiansky. But then I would hope it wasn’t DeFalco either.

I’ve still only read two issues of Sleepwalker– this isn’t one of them– but I do think the series had some nice moments, from what little I’ve seen. One of these days I’ve got to buy another issue.

But the most important thing to mention here is that the plural of cyclops is cyclopes.

Mary: I had forgotten that. Thanks!

Travis Pelkie

May 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm

This is why Sleepwalker is awesome.

I don’t have every issue like Bill does, yet, but if I don’t have this one, I want it. And I haven’t even read your comments yet.

Hey Bill, there was, what, 33 issues plus a Holiday Special? Is that right?

I think I first bought the cutout mask cover issue. So cool.

Don’t forget, Sleepwalker had some Quesada covers (and art on a few issues, iirc). This is why we don’t get Sleepwalker collections :)

And “some stupid…”, supposedly the “Sandman done right” line was a DeFalco one, iirc, but it is an apocryphal story. But it totally seems plausible.

How do those 2 “spider leg” flaps stay up by her bellybutton?

Yep, pretty sure 33 + the special with the Quesada cover. The issue with the mask for a cover (#19) was also my first. Blevins was gone by that point, if I remember correctly.

I’ve heard (still unconfirmed) the real quote was more along the lines of “Sleepwalker is Sandman done the Marvel way”; not the “right” way.

No one’s ever been able to show me the actual quote and when I asked Tom DeFalco about it, he did not recall saying it (he did not say he definitely did not say it, just that he did not recall saying it). I wish someone could find the quote.

The only two things that Sleepwalker and Sandman have in common: 1) they both involve dreams, and 2) they’re both incredible.

Take away those similarities, and I don’t think anyone could name two comics that are more different if they tried.

some stupid japanese name

May 26, 2012 at 7:59 am

re: the quote

Well at that point in time, the only way I got any comic news at all was either from Wizard or it’s main competitor (be it Overstreet Fan or Hero or whatever). So I definitely read it in one of those mags.
Narrows it way down, I know, :)

“No one’s ever been able to show me the actual quote and when I asked Tom DeFalco about it, he did not recall saying it (he did not say he definitely did not say it, just that he did not recall saying it). I wish someone could find the quote.”

Always be lookin’ for Legends. ALWAYS!

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