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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 230: Sleeper “Season One” #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be looking at four writer/artist duos, as voted on by you, the readers! This week features Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips! Today’s page is from Sleeper “Season One” #1, which was published by DC/Wildstorm and is cover dated March 2003. This scan is from Sleeper volume 1: Out In The Cold, which was released in 2004. Enjoy!

Oh, Holden - you're in a world of shit, aren't you?

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Brubillips or Philbaker, depending on your preference) worked briefly together before Sleeper, as Phillips inked a couple of issues of Brubaker’s Scene of the Crime mini-series for Vertigo. But this series was the first time Phillips drew Brubaker’s scripts, and comics history was made!!!!!

Brubaker has a style, and we see it clearly here. Holden Carver – we don’t know his name yet, but that’s it – is narrating, which Brubaker likes to do, and we begin at the end of something shitty, which he also likes to do. This has the advantage of beginning with a dramatic scene, which gets us right into the story – who is that dude? what’s going on? why is that other dude dead? Brubaker also likes to set up a “man against the world/man on the run” scenario, and while Holden’s narration doesn’t quite give us that (yet), we do get a sense that Holden is somehow lost (this entire series was based on Point Blank, but that doesn’t have Phillips on art and you don’t really need to read it anyway to get Sleeper, although it’s quite good). Brubaker sets a nice mood on this page, even if we don’t get a lot of concrete information about Holden.

One thing we’ll notice about Phillips’ style over the past decade is that he’s gotten a bit harsher and a bit more abstract. How much of that is the influence of colorist Tony Aviña (who colors this) and his later colorists I don’t know, but we see here that Holden, for instance, is a bit smoother than later Phillips characters and his coat, especially, is a bit over-rendered. Phillips designs the page well – he uses this trick throughout the book, where we get a splash page with several smaller panels laid over it. The layout is nice – the panels step downward parallel to Holden, so that he’s always in our peripheral vision even as we look at the smaller panels. Phillips creates a separate panel for the dead dude in the bottom left corner even though he’s technically part of the splash page so as to highlight that he’s there. Notice that the layout creates an “X”, with the panels going from the upper left to the bottom right and Holden and the dead dude forming the other segment in the X. Brubaker’s narration follows the first segment, but Holden looking at the dead dude is important, as well, so the other segment blocks us from moving onto the bottom right panel until we account for the dead dude. Phillips gives us some information about Holden and his situation, too – the cops are outside the warehouse, and this is a universe in which superpowered being exist. The flying silhouettes in Panel 3 and the domino mask on the dead dude implies that. I imagine that’s in the script, but it’s nice that Brubaker let Phillips give us that information visually rather than stating it explicitly.

It’s tough to speak of Bill Oakley’s lettering in a vacuum, but when Ken Lopez takes over in issue #4, he uses a more italicized style, and Oakley’s upright lettering seems to fit the tone more. It’s interesting to contrast small things like that when the letterer changes, especially if the two letterers have different styles.

Next: More Sleeper, but from much later in the series. Will anything change? Be here to find out! And be sure to check out the archives!

8 Comments

My favorite comics series ever! I love Criminal, Incognito and Fatale, but nothing Brubillips have done since has come close to this.

I’m actually surprised that this was one of the writer/artist duos that got the most votes. Brubaker and Phillips have been doing such great comics for so many years, that you can almost take them for granted.

Even with all their later work, I agree that Sleeper is the best Brubillips (love that portmanteau!) comic. It hit the right mix of dark comedy and serious drama, and used the Wildstorm characters so well you’d think that many of the existing cast were originals.

Brubalips > Brubillips. It just rolls off the tongue better.

Brubalips was Ozymandias’s OTHER pet.

@buttler: Len Wein is either kicking himself for missing that, or you just spoiled BW: Ozymandias 3 or 4.

Really looking forward to this week, should be some great looking pages. I hate to nit-pick, but I’m pretty sure Batman: Gotham Noir in 2001 was the first time Phillips drew one of Brubaker’s stories.

http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Batman:_Gotham_Noir

Diggity: Yeah, I just got Gotham Noir last year when DC released one of those “100-Page Giants” collecting it, so I wasn’t sure when it came out. My bad. I was going to feature it, but I’ve been featuring a lot of Batman stuff recently (with a LOT more coming next week!), so I figured I’d skip it. But you’re right – that did come first. Sorry!

I read “Sleeper” from beginning to end on a trip to Vegas to promote a movie a bunch of my friends and I made last year, and I was blown away. The ending was so good, and so emotionally affecting, I was just gobsmacked for the rest of the day after I finished it.

Not only one of the best comics I’ve ever read, it was one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve ever read, period. I hope someone talented has the good sense to use Holden in the New 52 Wildstorm/DC stuff (with Brubaker’s approval, of course).

In fact, if any DC editors happen to be reading this column and need some ideas, I got some. I know how you guys are always reading through random comments sections to find unknown internet commenters to give major writing jobs to (::sigh:: A guy can dream, can’t he?).

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