Doktor Sleepless #1
Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Ivan Rodriguez
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Cover artists: Ivan Rodriguez/Jacen Burrows/Raulo Caceres
Editor: William Christensen
Publisher: Avatar Press
Price: $3.99 US
Though I’m a fan of some of the writers it publishes, I don’t usually venture into the realm of Avatar Press, as I’ve found the art doesn’t match the quality of the writing talent at times. But with Doktor Sleepless billed as being in the same vein as Ellis’s landmark Transmetropolitan series, I had to check it out. Ellis’s script doesn’t disappoint, as it explores the notion of the future, namely, perceptions of what the future should be and when it should be. Once that theme is revealed in the middle of the book, the story takes on a stronger direction and focus. Ellis has set his story in the not-too distant future but fills it with references to the tech of today. He lectures on the crossover of technologies and ideologies, ultimately condemning mankind for its laziness and lack of imagination. The art by Ivan Rodriguez services the story well enough, but it rarely rises above the level of simply standard comic-book art. When one is used to see the work of such artists as Darick Robertson, Bryan Hitch and John Cassaday bringing Ellis’s visions to life, Rodriguez’s art pales in comparison.
Despite its name, the city of Heavenside is far from a divine place. Poverty is commonplace, and the disillusioned youth seek to escape the drudgery of the everyday in pills, pirate techno radio and potentially fatal body modification. A young bookstore owner named Sing Watson realizes that her closest friends seem to be dying one by one; the latest victim is DJ Amun, who takes his own life after being confronted by a woman he impregnated some time before. Recent events lead Sing to think of a former lover, John Reinhardt, but little does she know that he has returned to Heavenside, this time to plague it in his new persona as mad scientist Doktor Sleepless.
Rodriguez certainly captures an appropriately dark mood with his art here, and there’s also an element of youth and 20s-tech culture in the story that he’s able to reinforce with depictions of characters that look about the right age. The subtle tech elements, such as Sing’s IM-contact lens, are also conveyed in a convincing manner, portrayed in a manner that makes them seem slightly futuristic yet plausible and believable in the context of the technology of today. His character designs are a bit ordinary and uninspired; even the title character looks a bit off. It seems as though he’s wearing a green muumuu rather than some kind of surgical outfit. Rodriguez’s style strikes me as being rather ordinary. He tells the story clearly enough, but there are few panels that really grab the eye.
At first, Doktor Sleepless’s appearance (or Reinhardt’s return) makes for some confusion as the story begins. There’s no clear catalyst, no clear beginning for the reader. It soon becomes apparent, though, that Reinhardt’s transformation is a mystery that Ellis has included in his philosophy of the future. Once Sing Watson is brought into the plot and her connection to the title character is revealed, the confusion actually does transform into the intended air of mystery. Sing is clearly meant to be the heroine of the story. She’s admirable, intelligent and sympathetic; she’s designed to be instantly likable, just as Sleepless is designed to repel.
The greatest strength of the book is Sleepless’s editorial on the nature of technology and mankind’s penchant for wish fulfillment over appreciation of achievement. While society laments the lack of flying cars, jetpacks and ray guns it was promised by politicians and pop culture of the 1950s and ’60s, Sleepless points out that iPhones and IM-ing are miracles of modern technology. We may not be moving our bodies across the planet at Mach 10, but we’re transmitting ideas, emotions and information even faster. While we complain of being unable to travel to the moon for an afternoon adventure, we’ve missed the fact our technology has diminished the importance and meaning of place. I hope Ellis, through Sleepless, expands on this iPod ideology and shares more socio-technological philosophy in future issues. 7/10