Imagine that you’re placed deep undercover in a criminal conspiracy. You are to behave like a criminal – kill, steal, whatever it takes. Only one person knows that you’re actual undercover and not really a bad guy.
And then that guy gets put in a coma.
Stripped of the superhero stuff, that’s Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s brilliant Sleeper in a nutshell. It’s a title that helps gloriously transition comics away from retards in tights to something more interesting. Sure, Sleeper is set in the shared superhero universe of Wildstorm, and sure, the lead character Holden Carver has amazing superpowers – he’s impervious to pain but can store up the energy of injuries and pass them on to others via skin contact – but this is a book that’s about the delightful moral grey area in which Holden is trapped. He’s so deep in the villain TAO’s organization that he’s come to like his criminal cohorts, fallen in love with the villainess Miss Misery and become one of the highest ranking operatives.
And now Tom Cruise wants to ruin it.
I thought I was past these bursts of negative passion about adaptations. The original, I have told many other angry people, still exists. The movie can never take that away. But Sleeper… this one feels personal. It was never one of those ‘buzz books’ that people felt guilted into buying. It never quite took off as anything more than a cult hit, and that, combined with the series’ short run, makes it really special. It’s a book whose central conceit is so fucking great and simple and deserves, more than almost any other comic book that is being published lately just to get optioned, to be turned into a truly amazing, dark and gritty movie. And now Tom Cruise wants to ruin it.
Here’s the problem with Tom Cruise starring in a movie version of Sleeper, which is what the current situation is (he’s setting it up at Warner Bros with Sam Raimi producing): Cruise will never cross the line as Holden Carver. And what sets the book apart from other series – comic or otherwise – dealing with similar situations is that Carver crosses the line. He doesn’t always figure out a way to make it seem like he’s a bad guy while not actually taking bad action. He takes lots of bad action. The moral crux of the series becomes whether or not Holden is still a good guy when he does bad things for good reasons. There’s no way that Cruise will do that. His Carver will be a lily-white good guy who just happens to be hanging with a bunch of bad guys.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Tropic Thunder was the opening salvo for a new Tom Cruise, one who will shed his golden image for the role. Hell, he’s playing a (good) Nazi in Valkyrie. And he was a (good) vampire in Interview With the Vampire, so maybe he does have the darkness in him. Maybe he’ll allow his Carver to be just on the wrong side of that line.
But I doubt it.
Meanwhile, there are rights issues to work out. Characters from Sleeper come from WildC.A.T.S and Gen13, titles that have deals attached to them outside of Warner Bros. With the current brouhaha about Watchmen, you can be sure that Warner Bros is dotting their ts and crossing their is on this one.
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey