*Note that this is a review of the entire Sleeper series. It can be found two volumes: Season 1 and Season 2.
Sleeper is a graphic novel series that stands out as unique. Devoid of costumed heroes (unless they are getting pounded on by the main characters), it instead chooses to focus on the bad-guys (and gals). The series has a very distinct film noir feel that gives the comic an edge. This dark, gritty motif sets the stage for a great spy-thriller where the spies have super-abilities and trust doesn't exist.
The series' protagonist is Holden Carver. Codenamed The Conductor for his ability to transfer any pain he has absorbed into another person by touching them. Carver is a deep cover agent, who is posing as one of the bad-guys. When we meet him, Carver has managed to work his way up to rungs of the criminal organization, getting ever closer to Tao, the mastermind who pulls all the strings. Carver's success seems like a good thing until we find out his only contact is in a coma and Carver is now stranded with the bad-guys, while his old employers are actively hunting him. Now Carver must employ his spy skills and his powers to survive in a twisted game of cat and mouse.
Sleeper stars some other very memorable characters. Most notably, Carver's love interest and fellow Prodigy, (the highest ranking members of Tao's criminal organization), Miss Misery, a deliciously evil and sexy lady who needs to commit acts of violence in order to stay alive. Miss Misery inspired very little sympathy from me, she is an evil, evil woman, but as a character, I admired her. Brubaker uses a fairly small cast of characters, but they all stand out as well constructed, without feeling like spy genre cliches. For example, on the surface, Tao is just a shitty Bond villain, but Brubaker fleshes the character out, and I actually found myself admiring his guile and scheming.
As with most graphic novels that I enjoy, Sleeper has fantastic artwork. The artist, Sean Phillips does a fantastic job of matching the art to the tone of the story. Sleeper is a dark tale and the art matches up nicely. Phillips certainly has his own art style, and often each page is a full page drawing, with smaller panels showing the action. Having never really seen this done before, I thought it was cool, stylish way to tell the story. Another thing about the artwork that stood out for me was Phillips' ability to portray human emotion in facial expressions. He often had panels of close ups on a character's face, and with out words or narration, I was easily able to tell exactly what was on that character's mind. This may seem like a minor thing for an artist to be able to draw faces well, but I thought it stood out as exceptionally well done.
As a series, I thought Sleeper was quite good, but I felt that Season 1 was stronger than Season Two. This is likely a case of personal taste, because in Season 2 there are so many back-stabs, and double and triple crosses, that I often had a hard time keeping everything straight. For that reason I had to go back and reread pages to make sure I knew what the hell was going on, which broke up the flow a bit. But really, I can't complain too much, because in the end, I was very much satisfied. Sleeper makes Jason Bourne look like Hello Kitty, and packs enough action and intrigue to stand with any of the great spy thrillers.
Brubaker and Phillips team up in a few other graphic novels as well, and I look forward to reading more of their material in the future.