“Doktor Sleepless” continues to fly beneath the radar of, well, everyone, it seems. That’s a shame because, after a slow start, it’s developed into a book that looks like it will stand alongside Warren Ellis’ best work. Ironically, one of the reasons the second storyline has worked so well is the absence of the eponymous Doktor after the revelation in issue eight concerning his true intentions. This second arc, so far, has worked around him, examining his influence on Heavenside and introducing other characters that will play a role, either for or against him.
After a turf war began between two gangs last issue, Heavenside has begun falling apart with much of the city caught in the crossfire and the police slowly being worn down. With one side, the Grinders, wearing Doktor Sleepless masks, it’s almost certain that the good Doktor has a hand in events, but there’s little to connect him. Even still, a third gang (the Headhunters), are convinced that Sleepless is trying to tear the city apart. The gang is connected into the city’s mainframe and, as one member tells Detective Singer, “We see the big picture.”
The broader approach taken by Ellis here is effective in laying out what’s going on in Heavenside and connecting seemingly unrelated characters in unexpected ways. Things are beginning to take shape and, for the first time in this arc, Doktor Sleepless makes his presence known in an unexpected way. What Sleepless does is so unexpected that it once again throws the reader off what his plan is exactly. If he’s behind the gang war, why do something that seems completely contrary to that element of his plan?
Ivan Rodriguez continues to improve with each issue. While there is some violent action in this issue, a lot of it is simply people standing around, talking, and he makes that visually interesting. He shows the frustration and exhaustion these characters clearly feel throughout the issue. They’re living in what amounts to a war zone and they all look terrified and tired as a result. Sometimes, his work looks rushed and incomplete, but he’s definitely grown leaps and bounds since the series began, which has, no doubt, contributed to the book reading better now.
While some dismissed “Doktor Sleepless” as a pale imitation of “Transmetropolitan” and the ideas and themes Ellis explored there, it’s since established its own space, differentiating itself from his other work. There are obvious overlaps, but this book is its own beast, and it’s a damn fine read. Don’t be surprised if, years from now, people are talking about how great this book was and you find yourself playing catch-up via trades.