Writer: Ed BrubakerArt: Colin Wilson (Point Blank)Sean Phillips (Sleeper Season 1)Publishers: Titan Books (paperback, colour, rrp £8.99/ £18.99)
Ed Brubaker is the master of comics noir. He haunts the shadowey underbelly of superhero life – crime that spills out through the alleyways and gutters, or hides behind the brightness of a social facade or an engaging smile. The psyche of his characters is darker, their motives more ambiguous. It is a technique that invigorated superhero franchises such as Daredevil and Captain America, but has also been the strength of his award-winning Criminal series.
Both Point Blank and Sleeper are set in the Wildstorm universe, touching on the fringes of its superhero world but looking into their seedier, more secretive operations.
Cole Cash is the former special-ops soldier turned detective who’s sent to investigate a murderous attempt on the life of his John Lynch, one-time commander now spy-master in the first volume, Point Blank, which also serves as prelude to Sleeper.
The more he tries to uncover the answers, the deeper he wades into a cesspool of lies and manipulation, determined to discover what mysterious organization former team mate, Tao, is fronting and how Lynch’s star pupil, Holden Carver, has been won over by the dark side. The difficulty is getting all the pieces to fit into the sordid jigsaw, even The Authority‘s Midnighter offers little help.
The barriers between the good guys and the bad are obscured by fistfights, bullets and shameful secrets that would be better hidden. Colin Willson’s art remains clear and concise with shady undertones but defining dynamic panels to echo Brubaker’s punchy dialogue.
In Sleeper, the focus falls on Holden Carver himself who is playing dangerous games. He’s a double agent, known as The Conductor because of his electrical powers, employed by Lynch to infiltrate Tao’s super-powered crime syndicate, and bring it down from within. However, with Lynch in a coma, and the only one knowing his true status, he can’t allow his own colleagues to blow his cover, and so endures the accusations of being a traitor.
Likewise, he can’t raise the suspicions of his newly-found allies and so must be prepared to demonstrate his loyalty, leaving him to walk a fine line between deception and discovery until he can complete his mission. It means he has to keep his allies and enemies such as Miss Misery and Genocide at close hand.
Brutish, violent and labyrinthe stories, with a fistful of pitch-black humour, they’re all given a grittier twilight look thanks to Sean Phillips’ art, a collaborator on Criminal. The smaller, tighter panels give a denser feel to the drama too.
Both books fill the senses with blood and adrenaline, and ensnare the brain in a dangerous web of conspiracy. This is gun-hot noir crime fiction that would relish a transfer to TV series, in the absence of The Wire or The Shield. Then again, Sam Raimi and Tom Cruise are already linked to a big screen version. And I’m not sure how Carver would react to that.