90s era Marvel comics have a reputation. The guys who founded Image Comics were cutting their teeth there, and the characters they worked on seemed to take on many of the sorts of things fans today bemoan but which must have been selling back then, hence the reason for so many of them. They were massive guys with guns, pouches, and bad-ass names and powers. Bishop. Cable. Ghost Rider. X-Force. Venom. I think the Punisher had three separate titles going at one point. Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man series showed the Hobgoblin going nuts, thinking he was a real goblin, finding religion, and ripping his own face off.
Then there was Sleepwalker.
I have to admit to a certain amount of affection for the guy. In many ways, when the character first appeared, he was a throwback to an earlier age. He probably would have fit right in with the 60s-era of Marvel, sitting alongside such other do-gooder outcasts as Spider-Man, the Hulk, and the original X-Men. His backstory wasn’t particularly tragic. He was an alien who found himself in the physical world. Since he was something of a cop back home, he opted to use his abilities to protect others. Technically, Sleepwalker wasn’t even his name. That was more like his species/job description.
First appearing in 1991 in a comic written by creator Bob Budiansky and drawn by Brett Blevins, Sleepwalker had been a concept of Budiansky’s since the 70s and got a release due to the success of DC/Vertigo’s Sandman series. Aside from a connection to dreams, the two characters have little in common. Further, given how long ago the character had been a plan of Budiansky’s may explain why he seemed such a retro throwback. Sleepwalker’s original rogues gallery would not have looked too out of place on the Adam West Batman show, and most have disappeared entirely since Sleepwalker’s own title was canceled. Sleepwalker himself has made a few appearances here and there, probably most recently as a helper alongside a drunken Machine Man to Carol Danvers when she held down a Ms. Marvel series.
Originally depicted as a rail-thin alien (he bulked up rather quickly and was a muscular monstrosity within the first five issues), Sleepwalker possessed superhuman strength, resistance to injury (a hand grenade could knock him for a loop but would leave him stunned but otherwise OK), and he could walk/float on air rather than fly. Most unique was a power he called “warp vision” which allowed him to twist objects into different shapes. He swore an oath as part of his duties to never use the warp vision on a living thing, something that obviously happened once in a while, the first time to guest star Deathlok, and which always sent him into a sudden bout of horror and outrage at breaking his oath. Like I said, the guy was basically a do-gooder. He did right and protected others because it was the right thing to do. There was just one drawback…
See, Sleepwalker came from a realm called the Mindscape, a place that connected the minds of everyone in the regular world. If it sounds a lot like the astral plane, I guess it does. Two Sleepwalkers can be seen briefly chasing the Shadow King in the Ultimate Universe, so someone else made that connection. Sleepwalker himself was only in the Marvel Universe’s Earth because an especially nasty thing called Cobweb knocked him into the mind of a sleeping film school student named Rick Sheridan. Sleepwalker had lost a special badge he carried that could have taken him out, so he was stuck in Sheridan’s mind. He could only come out when Sheridan fell asleep, something Sheridan initially didn’t want to do until he learned the creepy alien in the blue and purple rags was a good guy. Anytime Sheridan woke up, Sleepwalker got sucked back into Sheridan’s mind.
Obviously, this happened a lot in key moments. During a Spider-Man team-up, Spidey got pretty fed up with Sleepwalker’s seemingly half-assed attempts to help, especially as Sleepwalker disappeared in the middle of carrying Spidey across the Hudson River. It also meant Sleepwalker and Sheridan became close partners, and so, in a sense, Sheridan was Sleepwalker’s secret identity. Sheridan was even listed as Sleepwalker’s “human host” in the spot reserved for the secret identity on Sleepwalker’s Marvel Comics trading card.
Long periods of time outside of Sheridan’s mind, or away from the Mindscape, would gradually weaken Sleepwalker and potentially could kill him. He also lost strength the further off the ground he floated, but gained it back when he was in contact with the Earth. As an alien, he had other oddities. He didn’t sleep, certain frequencies of light could cause addiction, and he found loud club music soothing and restful. His biggest weakness was his appearance, as this is the Marvel universe, and deeds don’t count if you look like a freak and aren’t the Thing.
Despite his series running for a few years, and the standard guest appearances of characters like Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Ghost Rider, Sleepwalker apparently never caught on. After being the straight-up good guy who does good, he started getting moody since the cops are out to arrest him on the charge of…being ugly I guess?…and how people seem to fail to appreciate him. This facet of his personality seemed to come out when he’d make a guest shot in another book. But in my mind, the character as a good guy who does good actually worked. His series was more throwback than anything else. Maybe he was just before his time. I just thought he was neat. There have been an attempt or two to revive him. One lasted exactly one issue. All this from a guy who, if needed, could walk your dog for you.
3 thoughts on “Slightly Misplaced Comics Heroes Case File #3: Sleepwalker”
Two things – First, he looks strangely familiar to Skeletor! Second, I love reading these posts because I basically get a history lesson in comics. And for someone who is new to the comic world, I appreciate the depth of knowledge. Nice article!
If you’re digging the history lessons, wait until next week.
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