If you haven’t noticed a trend in my read piles for the month of April, it’s that I’ve been reconnecting with books of my youth for the most part. I mean there was the random Grass Kings entry last week, but overall whether it was Spidey, Madman, or heck even our recent podcast shows where we talked Fantastic Four, April seems to a month in which I was reminded of those series that made me love comic books from a wee little guy to the old man I am now.
Maybe that’s because April is not only the month of my birth, so it’s a reminder of how much more distant I’m getting from these ye olden days of my teenage years. But more importantly, April is now also the month of my son, Jakob’s birthday, so as I’m getting older I get to also celebrate the fact that he’s getting older too, and that means there’s more great comics, TV shows, and movies I get to introduce him as he grows more mature. So of course reconnecting to these things gives me an opportunity to determine whether some of these properties are worthy of being passed on to the next generation.
As such, I’ve worked my way to another comic book hero I read monthly for several years in my early teens. The purple cloaked master of slumber known as The Sleepwalker!
For those who haven’t checked out this character before, Sleepwalker first appeared in his own series in 1991, created by Bob Budiansky and Bret Belvins. We actually reviewed the first 3 issues of this original series on the podcast, so if you are interested in hearing, more, I would highly suggest checking it out.
However as a short recap, the series introduced the Mindscape, a vast inter-dimensional place that connected all sentient beings within their dreams. Because of malevolent threats that prey on beings when they connect to Mindscape while dreaming, it’s policed by an green skinned alien race. One of those officers who will eventually become known on Earth as just Sleepwalker accidentally gets trapped inside the mind of human named Rick Sheridan.
Whenever Rick was awake, Sleepwalker dwelled within his own personal section of the Mindscape, but the moment Rick fell asleep (or was knocked unconscious…oddly), Sleepwalker could physically manifest in our world. Once there, he worked primarily alongside other street-level heroes like Spider-Man, Darkhawk and the New Warriors battling not only many of the general villains of the Marvel Universe, but as I’ll go into later, a rather robust rogue’s gallery of his own.
He played a pretty large supporting role in the Marvel Universe for the first two years of his publication run, including being a decent player in the first Infinity War series in 1992 before his series was canceled. From there, the character all but disappeared from the Marvel Universe, save for brief appearances during Civil War and Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Team-Up.
But that all changed with a 4 issue series that was realized as a tie in to the more recent “second” Infinity Wars crossover event that ran throughout comics in 2018. It’s this series that is the focus of my review today given it’s much more relevant that comics from the 90s for most of our fans.
Here comes “Infinity Wars: Sleepwalker #1-4.” from the creative team of Chad Bowers, Chris Sims, Todd Nauck, and Rachelle Rosenberg.
10 Cent Synopsis:
The series immediately following the events in the Infinity Wars series when former Guardian of The Galaxy member Gamora (now going by the moniker Requiem) has trapped everyone in the universe within the Soul Stone, folding folks together into “merged” versions of themselves and as creating amalgam versions of our favorite Marvel heroes. Sleepwalker sees this as a threat to the sentient beings he has been swore to protect, partial due to his intense bond with Rick. When the fellow members of his race disagree, he bucks the system and decides to travel to the Soul Stone in an attempt to set things right.
As such after confirming a long rumored fan theory that the Mindscape is actually a part of the Mind Stone infinity gem, Sleepwalker has to traverse the other linked stones in order to make his way to his destination. Along the way, he teams up with some of the amalgam heroes I alluded to such as Little Monster (a cross between Ant-Man & Hulk) and of course another 90s throwback in Dark Starhawk (a cross between Darkhawk & Starhawk).
But the trek across the Power Gem and Reality Gem have their own perils to face, and if Sleepwalker is going to survive, he is going to have to evolve (both physically and meta fictionally) into something greater than just a relic from decades past…
Initial Thoughts :
Well, the first word that comes to mind while I was reading this series, was Ambitious.
There is a a lot of ground this series attempts to cover in only 4 issues including the reintroduction of Sleepwalker after a nearly 20 year hiatus, the in depth development of various supporting characters such as the pint sized version of the Hulk called Little Monster, the pretty expansive exploration of the actual universes existing within the Power Stone and Reality Stone (the second of which gets down right meta-fictional), and attempting to set up future stories with all the concepts introduced here. That’s again to say it bluntly ambitious, and I’m not sure it ultimately succeeds.
But let’s first talk about the things I loved, and that starts and ends with the fact that Chad Bowers and Chris Sims really do love the 90s Marvel characters.
You can tell from the first few pages of this series which sees Rick Sheridan creating a documentary about the New Warriors and other heroes from that decade featuring Silhouette as the narrator.
It’s in that first section you can hear the authors voices come through in that although many might be able to recall the major Marvel heroes, the ones of the 90s were the ones many of us grew up with and to us they are just as important.
And there is an almost single minded push in this book to make those characters “important” by redefining their power sets and in the process pumping their tires more than a bit. Whether it’s Sleepwalker realizing his powers are vastly more expansive during his battle within the Power Gem or Dark Starhawk, who is given mastery over Space and Time, making him the logical partner for the now “beefed up” Sleepy, this series excitedly showcases what can be accomplished with these now throwaways from a bygone era if someone just bothered to show some care and respect.
From there of course I loved the whole warped world building that embraced the same “anything goes” attitude which I dug in the recent Secret Wars spin off books from just a couple years previous. I mean “Scotty Banner”, a Hulk that gets smaller the angrier he gets but also stronger, turning the entire character on his head without losing the essence of what makes the Hulk great.
The scenes in issue 3 within the reality gem which is just a inter-dimensional comic book shop laced with real life copies of “What if Silver Surfer got the Infinity Gauntlet?”
The Fing Fang Foom/Man Thing mash up dragging Sleepwalker through parallel realities where Galactus had goatee, just wonderful!
All these are terrific “high concept” ideas that really get my comic book juices flowing. It’s free thinking, tongue and cheek, joyous in its celebration of the unquie medium that is Marvel Comics, and I really do applaud of the efforts.
Then there’s the wonderful art by Todd Nauck and Rachelle Rosenberg who manage to keep the subject matter light and breezy while at the same time professional as to not make a mockery of any of more bizarre ideas being pitched out at the reader faster than you can say Jack Robertson.
So with all that said, I’m sure you would think that I loved this book? Well…not quite…
But we’ll save that for my final thoughts in just a moment…
As something I alluded to earlier, one of the greatest things about Sleepwalker was that they actually spent time in his series developing his own Rogue’s gallery instead of just ripping preexisting bad guys from other superheroes for cheap plugs. Not to say Sleepwalker didn’t have guest appearances from time to time, but at least they tried to build the hero from the ground up, trying to make him as “independent” as possible.
Given the probabilities of me writing a second Sleepwalker article are slim to none, I thought I’d take a moment with the fun facts section to highlight some of my favorites.
Or as my brother Ethan used to call him “The Spaghetti Monster”.
Cobweb was some sort of inter-dimensional nightmare demon, who would eventually be tasked with the role of being Sleepwalker’s arch nemesis. Definitely a creepy look to this guy, and he was pretty insanely powerful to boot. I believe it took Sleepwalker calling in the Avengers to help him stop an invasion of Cobweb’s minions in the final issues of the series.
I mean not Thanos level here, but if you gotta call in the Avengers to stop your nefarious schemes, you got some street cred.
The femme fatale of the Sleepwalker rogues, this barely clothed rainbow colored villain vexed old green face with an addictive diamond ray that was like heroin to our hero. Or maybe he just hung around like a stooge waiting for one of conveniently placed light rings to drop slightly so he could snag a peek at some nip.
Sleepwalker? More like Creepwalker!
The most “well known” of all the Sleepwalker rogues, mainly because he was the only one to even have limited crossover appeal with other street level hero books, appearing even in some of the backgrounds of Amazing Spider-man over the years. GASP! Backgrounds you say?!?
Seriously though, I have to say, he does have an insanely great look to him with the sleek simple black/white costume and the iconic 8 ball helmet. Using a pool cue as a weapon is definitely a goofy choice, but like some professional wrestlers in the 80s and 90s, sometimes you just gotta go with the gimmick they gave you. 8 Ball makes it work!
Despite all I said about what I loved in this series, at the end of the day, I do think that it’s ultimately flawed. And as I alluded to in my opening, the flaw is that it does bite off more than it can chew. There are so many terrific ideas wanting to swim around freely in this series, but like 3 overweight fellas trying to fit inside of a baby pool, there’s just not enough room for everyone.
Maybe if this series was twice as long, you could spend entire issues fleshing out the “What if…” like mini universe of Little Monster complete with the mash up of Egg Head and the Leader. You could dive into the culture of Sleepwalker’s race in more depth. Heck, you could spend an entire issue just deviling into Archivus and her role as “Chronicler of the Multiverse”.
But, for a series that was supposed to be about traveling across all 6 Infinity Stones in a quest from the Mind Gem to the Soul Gem, we don’t even really get to enjoy that plot to the best of our ability, because the series just keeps cramming in more and more stuff. As such, even the main narrative has to take shortcuts to just get to the ending, which can leave the reader somewhat confused and unsatisfied.
Simply put, the main problem tries to cram 12 issues worth of content into 4 issues and as as result suffers from pretty glaring shortfalls in pacing. As I mentioned, I found myself saying by the end of the series: “Why did they spend a whole issue in the Power Gem?!?” I mean it was super cool, but they didn’t have the time to do that. The clock was ticking on this series and that side trip gobbled up tons of pages that could have been used elsewhere. And don’t get me started with the fact that it was all an Infinity Wars tie in book, so those references had to be shoehorned into an already bloated story which again felt like the book was shortchanging me.
At the end of the day, this should have been an “A” book. The quirky ideas, the fun 90s like art, the fact that merged Man-Thing and Fing Fang Foom together. It had all the elements for a winning combination, like Warren Ellis’ Nextwave.
But the pacing and the overwhelming number of conflicting ideas honestly brings it down quite a bit from those lofty goals. In the end, I feel like some of these ideas should have been saved for a sequel or something. Nestled away in the library of great one shot books that the writers could have played around with when they had more time.
I mean…I would have read a “Little Monster” series. It would have definitely been in my pull pile.
Andy’s Read Pile Grade: B-