Surely you’ve heard–Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Pearl Street films will produce an adaptation of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Sleeper. Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and David Weiner (Last Resort) will script; as of yet, no director is attached. Damon, Affleck and partner Jennifer Todd will have a direct hand in the project as executive producers. And in refreshing contrast to so many recent comic book adaptations, there’s nothing about the announcement that’s dubious–this team’s got the right kind of credentials.
So, Sleeper. Holden Carver can’t feel pain; instead he holds onto it, and through skin to skin contact, shares it. Along with his colleagues, Miss Misery, who literally thrives on doing bad things, and the nuclear-powered Genocide Jones, Holden breaks arms, manages shipments, and climbs the ranks of the scariest, most secretive international crime syndicate going. The only problem is that Holden isn’t a criminal, or at least he wasn’t one. Holden was–is–a highly trained special forces operative, and spy, in burned-his-bridges deep cover. And the only man who knows the truth has just been reported dead.
Sleeper is a spy book–a bit classic Bond and Bourne, a lot Taken–with a super powered twist. The bulk of it, Season One and Two, is concerned with moody, low level spy action, and Holden’s increasingly dire predicament, but there are, even from the first page, clearly bigger issues at stake. There’s alien technology of course–the source of Holden’s powers–and the matter of superpowers cropping up all of a sudden, Holden’s old bosses, and his new boss’s quest for–what else?– more power. Holden, like Bond and Bourne, is perpetually operating a pay grade above his own. And like those more famous spies, is hardbitten and superhumanly impervious to pain–literally in his case– with a hell of a lot more going on underneath.
Like Marvel’s Netflix package, Sleeper is ready-made for live action adaptation–this is Bourne meets The Town, by way of the Wildstorm shared universe. Superpowers are stripped down, clever rather than world shaking, and operate more as metaphor than power fantasy. It’s got Hitchcockian interiority, a brutality that would make Dashiell Hammet proud, and a walking disaster of a anti-hero who will be right at home amongst Don Draper, Nucky Thompson, and friends.
Perhaps I’m being optimistic, but it sounds like the right project with the right team. I have hopes. I’m also a fan.
Sleeper was written by Ed Brubaker and pencilled by Sean Phillips, the team who produced the exceptional Criminal, Fatale, and Incognito. It’s what you’d expect, if you’re familiar with their later work, but Sleeper is the zero point for those books. The art is inky luminescence, the writing tight, referential and steeped in low culture, without being obnoxious about it. Come on, you know this. It wasn’t their first time working together–that was 1999’s Scene of the Crime–but their first sustained collaboration. It’s worth a read for that reason alone.
Sleeper was originally published as two twelve-issue limited series, from 2003 to 2005, and is now collected in two different sets of trades. I’m all for Season One and Two, rather than the set of five (Season One is equivalent to Out in the Cold and All False Moves, and Season Two is equivalent to A Crooked Line, The Long Way Home and Coup D’état) but you can pick your poison–both sets are readily available.