(NOTE: There are spoilers ahead for both "Sleeper" and "Gotham Central.")
While not working on the highest selling projects, there's a writer in the comic book industry that's become a success through hard work, dedication and producing universally acclaimed work. Can you imagine that?
If so, then you're probably thinking of Ed Brubaker.
With more work on more titles than he's ever done before, Ed Brubaker seems more ambitious in a year some might dub "The Year of Ed." But when CBR News asked Brubaker if it was his year, he laughed.
"Well, I think any year so far in the 21st century is either the year of Bendis or Warren Ellis. I've got nowhere near the amount of projects of those guys. But, that said, yeah, this is a nice year for me, with some new stuff coming out, and a few side projects, like the 'Tom Strong' two-parter with Duncan Fegredo, and the 'Hawkman' issue that Sean and I did. I've learned after a few years on the same books that you really do need to get out and mix things up. I love 'Catwoman' and all the characters I write in it, but new stuff is always the most fun."
Quite easily Brubaker's biggest success story of 2003, and one of the most loved comics in general it seems, "Sleeper" was the DC Comics/Wildstorm series that refused to accept the idea of a status quo. With moral dilemmas worthy of the highest caliber drama, characters with more personality that in most media and a creative synergy that was so good it was scary, "Sleeper" earned its reputation. But despite that, Brubaker wasn't always sure he'd get another shot to develop the characters. "'Sleeper' is about the coolest fucking comic you'll ever read, you -- oh wait, you mean, what's it about. That's less easy... 'Sleeper' is a lot of things at once, especially in Season Two. To answer the first part first, it was about halfway through when Scott Dunbier and Jim Lee expressed interest in seeing where the book would go next, that I started thinking about what to do with these characters and how to take it in a different direction so it would be interesting to work on. We decided on the Seasons idea for a couple of reasons -- One, because everyone was already comparing the book to an HBO show more than a comic, which was one of my influences in creating it, so it seemed like taking a break between Seasons was a good way to continue to build the buzz and get the first Season out in trades at the same time. And it would give us a new number 1 to try and hook more retailers and readers. 'Sleeper' got the biggest buzz of anything I've ever done, but it came too late to help the monthly sales. People were waiting for the trade at that point, and no retailer is going to start ordering a book at issue 8, you know? It just doesn't happen these days.
"And the second reason for the break between Seasons was to give me a break to really think out Season Two. 'Sleeper' is a hard book to write, so we needed a breather, I think. And to answer the second part of the question: The first Season of 'Sleeper' was about Holden Carver, a super-powered secret agent who was deep-cover among the worst of the bad-guys. And the only person who knew he was actually a good guy was in a coma, so he was really stuck just trying to survive on his own among the enemy. And we watched him struggle to hold onto his humanity while doing horrible things, pretending to be a bad guy."
Readers also watched as the impossible happened- Lynch, the one man who could save Holden, awoke at the end of the first season just as Holden seemingly turned to the dark side. "Lynch waking up was a shock to most people, because it really changes the status quo," explains Brubaker. "Just when Holden gives up, thinks he's got no other choice, his one way out wakes up, but a few days too late. I think it was a nice downbeat ending to a really dark story, and a great teaser for the next run. As for the finale of Season Two, I have two or three in mind, and part of it depends on whether there'll be a Season Three. If sales suck again, we'll have to end it with this run, so I have the perfect ending in mind for that occasion, which I hope doesn't come to pass, yet."
A lot of readers share the same feeling and find Holden Carver to be thoroughly enthralling, a feeling that Brubaker can explain. "Because he's trapped, I think. He's a good man pretending to be a bad man, and wondering if there's any difference between the pretense and reality. I think that appeals to people, because most people do things they're ashamed of, but still think they're good inside. Plus, Holden's dilemma is just really compelling. It's been said a billion times by now, but he's like Donnie Brasco as a super-hero. He's down in the underground, making real friends, and having to betray them. He's losing sight of which side he's on."
Another intriguing aspect of "Sleeper" has been the so-called relationship between Miss Misery, who needs to cause pain to maintain her beauty and health, and Holden, with the both of them finding physical comfort in each other… and maybe something more. "Their relationship is part of the driving forces of Season Two, and now that Holden's out in the open, working for Tao, their relationship is changing in kind of sick ways, because of what Miss Misery has to do to stay healthy. So, they're still an item, but it's different, in some ways, it's just worse for both of them. I think his feelings for her are part of what allowed him to accept Tao's offer, really, like she's the consolation prize for giving up everything he believed in. Though, at the point he gave everything up, there wasn't much left to let go of, I think."
Brubaker's plans for "Sleeper Season Two" are deceivingly complex and he is more than happy to share them with readers. "My goal is to keep doing a monthly book with Sean Phillips, and to keep writing about characters I love, really, and to explore more of the way their lives and agendas intersect. There's also a lot of secrets that will be revealed this time around, some of which were hinted at in the Prelude story in the Coup Afterward. But we'll also learn why Lynch and Tao are sort of obsessed with each other, what that history is. Plus, just writing about someone struggling with their own inner self the way Holden does is endlessly fascinating, and now we get to watch him after he's crossed the line, and wonder if anyone can bring him back to the other side.
"Season Two opens up about four to six months after the whole Coup event, and the main effect is that Tao's organization is in hiding a lot more than before. They have secret bases and they are now a known entity, so it's not like the good old days of being able to just go anywhere with ease for Tao. People are out to get him. Not that he's easy to find, of course, he's the smartest man in the world, possibly.
"We kick off Season Two with a heist story, actually, that of course twists into something else entirely, and by the end of the issue, Holden is once again deep in a situation he wants nothing to do with, but has no choice."
If you're ever given a chance to sit down and talk with Brubaker, you'll hear a lot about Sean Phillips- and it'll be all positive. He and Brubaker have a unique creative relationship, but the writer can't explain why. "I have no idea, but I don't question it. Sean and I have worked well together since day one, and that's all I need to know. He's one of the best storytellers in the business, and that doesn't hurt, certainly. He's also very considerate with following the script, and understanding the script, which is a bigger compliment than it sounds like. But when you find someone who not only gets what you're doing, but follows it through, you stick with them. My only complaint about Sean is he's too fast. He's always ready for a script before I'm done."
Chances are that you saw the first "Sleeper" trade paperback in stores and it was gone soon after because of brisk sales. While Brubaker is happy with all the readers purchasing the trade, he hopes it draws more readers to the monthly issues. "I hope it means higher orders for the new Season, or there may be no more trades after the second one. From the anecdotal evidence so far, though, it looks like the high sales on the trade is getting people excited about picking up the new series. I've heard from hundreds of fans who waited for the trade that aren't going to this time around. I know that DC and WS have got some kind of retailer incentive planned that links the trades with the new #1 to try to boost sales and appeal to the stores that sold a ton more of the trade than they did of the monthly.
"My biggest hope, though, is that we get more stores to just start carrying the book at all. From what I've heard, it sounds like very few stores were racking this book each month. I thank all the ones that were, a lot of whom did really well with it, but I want the stores we didn't get the first time around to get onboard this time. There's no reason now for anyone, retailer or reader, to not buy the book if they're interested -- The first Season will be out in Trades, and the new #1 will hit stores the same month. If that doesn't help, nothing will, probably."
Besides causing chaos in the Wildstorm Universe, Brubaker writes a few Gotham City oriented series- namely "Gotham Central" and "Catwoman," the latter of which has received increased sales with the addition of penciller Paul Gulacy. "It's going great," Brubaker says of the new "Catwoman" art team. "Paul gets better every issue. I think issue 29 is going to really blow people away with how much he got into the characters and really show people he can do the talking heads as well as the action. And there's some HUGE things coming up in 'Catwoman' and in the whole Bat-line, in general, though I can't say what yet."
In "Gotham Central," Brubaker is bringing back ex-cop and fan favorite Harvey Bullock, but despite rumors otherwise, series co-writer Greg Rucka (who recently spoke with CBR about "Everest" and "Wonder Woman") wasn't opposed to the idea. "Not at all. Greg knew my plan wasn't to have Bullock rejoin the force. It's a character arc for him. He lost his shield, what did that do to him, you know? His whole adult life he was a cop, so what is he now. It's mostly a tragedy, I guess. It's also my favorite writing on the book so far.
"Bullock is a real polarizing figure, because when he quit the force, he was under investigation for his involvement in the death of the man who shot Gordon. So, while he did the wrong thing, it was for the right reasons, in a way. But he was a cop, so to many, he disgraced the badge, and to others, he's a hero, albeit a tragic hero that they don't really see that often. Tragic characters like that are just fun to write. Everyone is their own worst enemy at times, and that's where stories come from, I think."
While that arc will take readers well into the summer, don't expect the "Central" writers to say what's happening next. "I don't know yet, honestly. Greg's doing a run after me, and then we'll do another story together, and we're still kicking ideas around for that. Expect a big run-in with Batman by the end of the year, though, which has been building since issue one, really, and was heightened by the Joker arc."
Both writers speak highly of series artist Michael Lark and while he would seem to be able to handle any challenge put forth, Brubaker has devised a way to make Lark go insane, namely, "Crowd scenes at Arkham Asylum," laughs Brubaker. "Honestly, with Michael and Stefano it's just a question of what part of Gotham haven't they drawn yet, what would be a cool and creepy story for them to illustrate that fits the tone of the book. Michael is the best artist in comics for this book. He makes talking and driving a car look exciting and innovative, so I'm just happy he's back and raring to go."
The recent "Soft Targets" storyline kicked off the second year of "Gotham Central," in which the Joker went on a shooting spree with a sniper rifle and unlike many comics with a super villain conflict, the series has spent months looking at the consequences. "Taking the time to deal with the fallout was important, because in real life, there'd be a ton of fallout, you know, and it gave us a chance to highlight the characters over the action. People like this book so much, I think, because the characters feel real to them. They like Sarge, they like Stacy, they love Montoya almost fanatically. It's the combination of characters you care about involved in intriguing plots that makes this book what it is."
The first "Gotham Central" trade paperback hits stores in April and while fans have been asking for it for the past year, many feel that DC released it far later than it should have been released. "I don't know why it took so long, honestly. I was expecting it last year, but I'm not in charge of scheduling trades. DC doesn't put trades out that fast for stuff that isn't Vertigo, usually, so it's probably just that. I know we're all very happy to get the trade, though, and at such a low price point. I haven't heard anything about the orders yet, though, and probably won't. Pre-orders don't even count on a TPB, it's sell-through and reorders that you want to look at. Pre-orders only matter once the retailers know what they have to deal with, like the '100 Bullets' trades, or 'Transmet' or something. With a first book, you just want it to sell through for the retailers and for them to keep stocking it."
Of course, there's the "Burning Question" and for Ed Brubaker, CBR posits: in a no holds barred fight, who would win: Greg Rucka, Michael Lark or Ed Brubaker?
"If you keep Greg away from his cigarettes, he'll kill everyone in the room eventually," laughs Brubaker.