WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Infinity Wars: Sleepwalker #3, by Chad Bowers, Chris Sims, Todd Nauck, Rachelle Rosenberg, and VC's Travis Lanham, out now.
The oft-forgotten character known as Sleepwalker hasn't appeared in the Marvel Universe much since his '90s heyday, so it was a huge surprise when Marvel first announced that the character would be receiving his own tie-in miniseries for the ongoing Infinity Wars event.
This follows fellow '90s hero Darkhawk's recent return to fame in a similar miniseries prior to Infinity Wars, which leveled that character up in a cosmically big way. It looks like Sleepwalker might be getting his own meta upshift, as a new facet of the Marvel Multiverse has been revealed to the character.
Infinity Wars: Sleepwalker takes place after Gamora/Requiem trapped everyone in the Soul Stone, where she then folded the universe together, creating warped versions of our favorite heroes. Sleepwalker is attempting to enter the Soul Stone with the aid of warped heroes like Little Monster (Ant-Man / Hulk) and Dark Starhawk (Darkhawk / Starhawk), the latter of whom previously appeared in Darkhawk's aforementioned Infinity Wars Countdown miniseries.
For those who are unfamiliar with the character, Sleepwalker first appeared in his own series in 1991, created by Bob Budiansky and Bret Belvins. The series introduced the Mindscape and its protector, Sleepwalker, who found himself trapped inside the mind of human Rick Sheridan.
Whenever aspiring filmmaker Rick was awake, Sleepwalker resided in the Mindscape, but once Rick fell asleep, he was released into the waking world, where he worked with street-level heroes like Spider-Man, Darkhawk and the New Warriors. He even played a large role in the first Infinity War before his series was canceled and he all but disappeared, save for brief appearances during Civil War and Robert Kirkman's Marvel Team-Up.
As for The Mindscape, it is a realm created by all the dreams and nightmares of every living being and has long been rumored as being tied to the Mind Stone, which is confirmed in Infinity War: Sleepwalker. Sleepwalker began his journey through the Power Stone alongside Little Monster where he encountered an arena world with powerful foes battling for eternity.
He then paired with Dark Starhawk, whose mastery over Space and Time allowed him to travel quickly (relatively) through the two equivalent Stones, where he dealt with the overwhelming vastness of space and the inevitable entropy of time. This trek almost drowned him in madness before Dark Starhawk intervened. Upon finally entering the Reality Stone, Sleepwalker finds a fiery explosive universe filled with stacks and stacks... of comic boxes.
These stacks are watched over by Archivus, Chronicler of the Multiverse, who quips with Sleepwalker as he flips through various issues that feature covers from his own solo series, as well as a few other issues that could be a clue to something bigger.
Specifically, these include What If... Silver Surfer Possessed the Infinity Gauntlet?, Squadron Supreme #1, The Secret Defenders #4, and undetermined issues of The Life of Captain Marvel, classic Ms. Marvel, and X-Men comics featuring images of Jean Grey. As Sleepwalker questions Archivus about the Soul Stone, she hands him an issue of Infinity Wars #3, which he is dragged into suddenly by Man-Thing Thang Thoom (Man-Thing / Fin Fang Foom).
As they crash through the issue, we see a kaleidoscope of warped Marvel realities go by, with a number of iconic comic covers providing the backdrop to the craziness that is Goateed Cowboy Galactus.
So what do all of these comic references mean? We can assume the issues of Sleepwalker #1 and Secret Defenders #4 are simply references to Sleepwalker's own history, as they don't directly correlate to Infinity Wars. As for Squadron Supreme #1, this could be a reference to the recent return of the multiversal team in Avengers #700, while further confirming that these various comics are all representations of their respective realities.
The most relevant issue shown is the What If... issue, which twists a deciding moment in Infinity Crusade where Silver Surfer attempts to steal the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos. In the mainstream universe, he failed. However, in the reality depicted in that What If... issue, he takes it, and while he is initially corrupted by its power, he eventually manages to create a paradise and abandon the ultimate power thanks to the power of love.
Could this be an omen for Gamora's eventual fate with the power of infinity? Can love conquer all?
Of course, the comics chosen could simply be favorites of the creative team, and what this scene really does is push Sleepwalker into a new exploration of the Marvel Universe; an awareness of the reality above his that few in the Marvel Universe are privy too.
Deadpool is crazily aware of his life as a comic book character, and the Fantastic Four once went to Heaven and met their Creator -- aka God, aka Jack Kirby -- but Sleepwalker's usual C-list superhero status kept him oblivious to any meta understandings of his true existence, until this trip through the Reality Stone. We can't help but find this revelation somewhat familiar.
A lower-tier character being forced to face their ultimate existence through a meeting with their creator? We've seen this before, most famously with DC's Animal Man.
In the final issue of Grant Morrison's run, the character of Buddy Baker meets none other than... Grant Morrison. The two spend the entire issue discussing Buddy's life as a comic book character, and how the relationship between the character and the creator define both of them.
While Sleepwalker's brief journey through the comic stacks of the Reality Stone doesn't have the same emotional impact as the meeting between Buddy and Grant, it could very well be the beginning of a new awakening for Sleepwalker as he moves into a new understanding of the Marvel Universe, and his place in it.
Infinity Wars: Sleepwalker #3 is on sale now.