Sleepwalkers, Volume 1: #Adulting Sucks
Danny Gorny's Sleepwalkers, Volume 1: #Adulting Sucks is an unusual graphic novel that probes the limitations of the superhero as a solution to crime. By day, protagonist Faith is a Black college graduate in contemporary Toronto, burdened by the disconnect between her ideals and the jobs available to her. By night, she morphs into a white male superhero named Radiant Dawn, who fights crime in real life while she restlessly dreams of his adventures.
A philosophy major, Faith aspires to make a difference in the public sector of a city beset by racial inequality and crime. However, she has to settle for applying to corporations like Building Blocks, a sinister biotech venture. Unknown to her, Building Blocks has hijacked rival Gryffon Labs' shipment of an experimental substance called Janus, which explodes and contaminates the rain one night when Faith is out jogging. Whatever the stuff was intended to do, it has the effect of giving her an involuntary double life.
The race and gender dynamics, as well as the polished artwork, made Sleepwalkers more than a run-of-the-mill superhero comic. The superhero genre can be politically naïve, or even reactionary, in how it reduces society's structural problems to a battle between a savior and a bad guy.
Sleepwalkers implicitly critiques its literary forebears by making Faith resentful of Radiant Dawn. Not only does his existence keep her from getting a decent night's sleep, he symbolizes everything that frustrates her about a Black woman's lack of leverage in public policy. After attending a vigil against police harassment, Faith complains to her friends, "We're supposed to be living in a meritocracy, so why does some white man always get to make the important decisions? People have been telling me my whole life that there's a right way to get the chance to make a difference—" So why, she might add, does my white male alter ego get all the credit for stopping crime, letting me seem like a professional loser in "real life"?
Later in the story, Faith and her scientist friend Claire are debating the merits and dangers of technology that could give experts more control over people's unconscious motivations. Would that be a good structural fix for crime and inequality—or would an unequal society only become more so? Is data the same as understanding another person? It seems that technology has become our elitist superhero in another guise.
Ironically, since she would be in the best position to know what Radiant Dawn is thinking, Faith is a lone voice of skepticism about whether he'll use his powers for good. Sleepwalkers may be suggesting that our failure to know ourselves, with all our temptations and biases, is the root of problems that no strongman can sweep away.
Matters escalate when Faith becomes the nanny for an imaginative little boy with a sleep disorder that's being studied at Gryffon Labs. His dreams become real in a manifestation that's not as benevolent as Radiant Dawn. Now, I'm always up for a cameo from Cthulhu, but I felt that the story took a swerve into an unrelated plotline before tying up the many threads that were already going on.
This scattered quality was the book's main problem. There were too many jump-cuts to new characters and scenes, before it became clearer how they were connected. Faith had a lot of interesting relationships—a male and a female lover (not clear if they knew about each other!), rivalry with her brother, a friend group with potentially diverging values and life paths—but it felt jumbled because so many of them were introduced without further development. It might have been better to focus on one relationship at a time, and develop the others in future issues of the comic.
The book was visually attractive and professionally illustrated by Greg Woronchak and Felipe Obando. The characters were mostly easy to recognize from one scene to the next. The lettering by Marco della Verde was legible and harmonized well with the art style. I'm rooting for Faith to defeat white supremacy and the Elder Gods in the next volume.