While submissions for Marvel's Epic line may have recently been suspended, that doesn't mean there aren't a number of projects in the queue still being fleshed out, but just not ready to announce yet. One Epic project that is ready to be announced is a new ongoing series debuting in February, 2003 by writer Robert Kirkman, penciller Khary Randolph and inker Pierre-Andre Dery, "Sleepwalker." Fans may remember the character from his early '90s ongoing series that lasted almost three years, but now it's Robert Kirkman's turn to awaken Sleepwalker and bring the character into the 21st century.
"There are only a few really cool super-hero origins/super-powers," Kirkman told CBR News when asked to introduce the character to readers. "Guy from another planet, alien weapon/suit/whatever, exposure to radioactive something, super-strength, flight, animal powers, it all runs together after a while. Then along comes Sleepwalker. It's about a guy who has a super-hero that pops out of his head when he falls asleep! I think it's one of the most brilliant ideas in the history of comics. The old book focused on college student Rick Sheridan and his highfaluting adventures, sleeping while Sleepwalker did all the work.
"My book features a new guy. Kind of like how Danny Ketch was Ghost Rider for a while. I figured this would be the best way to keep people from feeling like they should hunt down old issues of the series on eBay. If you've ever liked characters like Spider-Man or Nova or The Ray or my Image book 'Invincible,' you'll probably enjoy my 'Sleepwalker' book. It's got all that fun super-hero hijinks mixed in with college guy drama and lots of character moments.
"David Daily is a trust fund baby who's been living off his parents' money for years now and has spent twice as long in college than he should have as a result. Then his parents get wise to his situation and tell him that if he doesn't get his act together and actually graduate this semester, he's going to get the cut off. This turns David's world upside down as he has to now scramble to finish his student film the final part of his grade. Then just when things get rolling, he finds out that he's got a super-hero coming out of his head every night to fight crime. From this he discovers that the fate of the world hangs in the balance and that his greatest contribution to society would be to sleep as much as possible and let Sleepwalker do his thing. Pass his class or save the world, it's a tough decision."
Kirkman also pointed out that the Sleepwalker that emerges from David Daily is a different one from that which emerged from Rick Sheridan, the star of the first "Sleepwalker" series. In the original series it was established that the first Sleepwalker came from an entire race of beings that all pretty much looked the same, although Kirkman was quick to point out one major difference between the old and new Sleepwalker. "Ours doesn't wear legwarmers."
We think it's safe to say that of all the characters in the Marvel Universe available to a creator to pitch a story on, "Sleepwalker" wouldn't be the first one to come to mind for most creators. Not so for Kirkman, who holds a special spot in his heart for this super-hero who walks when his host sleeps.
"My pal Erik Larsen has been known to say that as a kid growing up in the '70s, Nova: The Human Rocket was like his Spider-Man. He related to the guy more and I assume, got a real kick out of being there for the character's debut. Well, as a kid growing up in the late '80s/early '90s, Sleepwalker is like my Spider-Man. I remember picking up the first issue in a local convenient store. Hell, I still have that copy. I really liked the character, I thought he looked cool, I liked his powers, I thought he had a swell origin, and Brett Blevins drew some sexy chicks here and there to keep my interest."
While this new "Sleepwalker" series has been designed so that new readers don't have to be familiar with the original series, Kirkman tells CBR News that his plans for the series will contain elements sure to make the fans who were there for that original series quite happy.
"The first story arc focuses on David Daily and his college friends and sets up his relationship with Sleepwalker and how he plans on dealing with it all," said Kirkman. "There aren't many supporting characters to start with and I plan on waiting a few issues before bringing back 8-ball and the Chain Gang. Spider-Man will be making an appearance in issue 3, though, I just couldn't pass that up. As time goes on the series will get much more dense character wise. Eventually, I plan on bringing back Sleepwalker's original alter-ego, Rick Sheridan."
Kirkman's cognizant of the fact that the sometimes silly "Sleepwalker" of ten years ago might not work with today's super-hero fans and has made changes to the series to satisfy the needs of modern readers.
"I'm coming at this from a whole different angle," said Kirkman. "I think this will appeal to fans of modern Marvel comics. I'm trying to find a happy medium between the highly decompressed comics of today and the more compressed action driven stories I grew up on. I'm trying to appeal to fans of both styles. I've got a whole new cast to deal with, too, so things will be vastly different from the get go. For a while at least, I'll be focusing more on Sleepwalker's 'mission' than on him battling the 'human villain of the week' like he did in the old series."
The challenge of updating Sleepwalker for a modern audience is one Kirkman's ready for, attempting to satisfy a wide audience with the series.
"I'm definitely not going to be doing any Vertigo level stuff, but this isn't going to be Powerpuff Girls either. It'll be similar to 'Invincible' in tone.
"Sleepwalker, to a certain extent, demands a light-hearted approach. You can't turn him into a brooding vigilantly without losing the magic of Bob Budianski's original concept. The fans reading this that are clamoring to hear Rick say 'Whoa, Grizzly Bears are robbing a bank! I've got to fall asleep!!' are in for a treat. But at the same time, this is not a comedy book and will not be aiming for laughs at every turn. It's going to be a fun book above all else, but there's plenty of room for drama."
Kirkman's been enjoying the crew he's working with on "Sleepwalker" and was quite effusive when talking about his teammates.
"Well, there's Khary Randolph penciling. And it's the best stuff of his career so far. He did a fill in on 'Peter Parker: Spider-Man' and finished out the 'Spider-Man: Legend of the Spider Clan' book for Marvel. This is his first regular gig and he's really knocking it out of the park. Inking we've got Pierre-Andre Dery, he's Khary's inker of choice and the two of them really work well together. Kanila Tripp is our colorist. He's been bouncing around the industry for a while and has colored all sorts of stuff. His colors are vibrant and energetic and the perfect compliment to Khary and Pierre's work. On the lettering front we've got Rus Wooton and while most people wouldn't even mention the letterer I've got to say that Rus is one of the best. I letter everything else I do myself, and it's really hard for me to let go. Rus quickly eased my anxiety for trusting another letterer. Chris Eliopolous tought him everything he knows and Rus learned it well.
"As a whole I can't imagine working with a more efficient streamlined team, as I type this the book is completely penciled and inked and by the time this article appears the first issue will be done, and it's not due out until February! I couldn't be happier with how this book is turning out."
The process Kirkman went through to get in the door at Marvel to pitch "Sleepwalker" and finally get it slotted into their publishing plans was a long and arduous one, but ultimately the writer is excited about the opportunity and looking forward to seeing the book in comic shops this February.
"The book that I pitched was a bit more action packed and a bit more ambitious in scope," admitted Kirkman. "Stephanie Moore (the editor) asked that I focus more on David and make things more human and relatable, which I whole heartedly agreed with. I always dreaded working with an editor. I started in self-publishing on my book 'Battle Pope' and I've been at Image for almost two years just running wild without any editorial interference and I honestly expected it to be a problem. The thing is, most everything Stephanie suggested really made sense and I felt bad for not thinking of it myself. Besides, I can always go back and do what I originally wanted later when she's not paying attention. You think she'll read this?
"Now, I will say it took a while to get a final draft of the first issue approved and I never want to go through that again. I think it all turned out for the better in the end.
And what was Kirkman's reaction when Marvel finally gave him the go ahead on "Sleepwalker?"
"I nearly crapped my pants. Seriously! I always thought that one day, when I was big enough to push the project through I would do my take on Sleepwalker and revise the character. I mean, let's face it, he's not exactly a top tier character. When I was asked to pitch an Epic book the first thing that came to mind was Sleepwalker. I figured 'what the hell' and sent in my pitch. I never thought it would get accepted. I love comics, and it's been a dream of mine since I was a kid to be working for them. The fact that I'm starting [with Marvel] on one of my all time favorite characters is a real bonus. Now if I can just get some Spider-Man under my belt, I'll die a happy man."