Thee Comic Column #68: Brubaker & Epting’s Velvet

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I’ll confess right away that although I have enjoyed the handful of books that I’ve read from Ed Brubaker that fit into the “crime” genre that he and fellow writers Brian Michael Bendis and Greg Rucka have helped to popularize in modern comics, these are not my regular bread ‘n butter books. Sure, if I had the ability to read everything I wanted to and then some I’d go back and pick up all the trades and dive in. Alas, that’s probably not happening any time soon. For now I’m content to let series like Fatale and Criminal reach their conclusions and linger on my “must-read trades” list, picking one up occasionally and consuming it on days when street level, criminal noir is the flavor I’m hungry for. When I do have these “Crime Days” I’m always floored by how cinematic these books are – they are practically step-by-step diagrams for films that would KILL at the box office and probably re-establish noir as a modern genre. I believe this day is coming, it’s just a matter of when Hollywood gets around to it. In the meantime, this wonderfully cinematic flare is one of my favorite things about a lot of crime books, and it’s no secret that Mr. Brubaker is one of the best contributors out there when it comes to this type of storytelling, primarily because he always tweaks it in ways that leave it unmistakably “Brubaker”.

Three or so months ago I was having one of those “Crime Days” and didn’t even realize it until I walked into The Comic Bug and saw issue #1 of Velvet on the shelf. I grabbed it. Not only was this the rare chance that I catch one of these at the beginning, but it was a light week at the shop so I had some dough to play with. And really, this is Brubaker and Steve Epting – the team that absolutely re-defined Captain America as a high-concept espionage book in the Marvel Universe and completely redefined the character in the process. How could I not buy it?

First impressions of Velvet reveal a 70’s espionage thriller centered around a Bond Girl-esque heroine, a woman who begins as a secretary mourning her favorite operative liaison from the sidelines of a shadowy organization. Soon however, we see that all is not as it seems and our protagonist is actually much more than some dictation trollop. Velvet Templeton is none other than a retired operative herself – one of the best, most dangerous operatives of days gone by. There’s a story – and a good one – as to why she’s been granted retirement from the field and a cush desk job that bores her to death but we’re not getting it yet.

This only adds to her mystique, and in these kinds of stories, the protagonist cannot have enough mystique.

It is within these classically elegant parameters that we finally meet Velvet for who she really is – aging former super spy and a force to be reckoned with – especially once she is set-up and forced to turn renegade against ARC-7, the aforementioned über-secret organization she worked for until all bloody hell broke loose on one of those missions that “officially doesn’t exist”, where said favorite operative was killed, possibly by one of the agency’s own.

You see how fun this is going to be just from that set-up, right?

Execution wise the book – currently on issue #3 – relies on a combination of the Bond movies’ “French Riviera” Intercontinental-ism* meshed with elements of Mario Bava’s legendary action/spy piece Danger: Diabolik.  Throw in the hard knox of 70’s art-action flix a la French Connection and Bullet and you’ve got a recipe that really gets you going. Bullets fly, people get kicked in the face a lot and cars blur through oncoming traffic. Someone’s set up the best and she aims to learn the truth and see justice served.

Of course, if you were a fan of that legendary Captain America run you’ll dig this – Brubaker’s SHIELD seems a dry run at Arc-7. Except Velvet isn’t Cap (clearly), she’s a do-what-needs-to-be-done heroine. The story’s really just getting going in #3 but already I’m saying this woman is a contender to be one of the strongest female characters in a book in some time, as her resolve to find the truth flips the bird to everything that defines her. And that’s something spectacular when you see how Brubaker and Epting design it. The first issue sets up the situation, the second expends some great narration that lays out the brutally lonely social lives of those who walk in these boots. We’re then left to contemplate this brutally singular life. Unattached to any of the things that define you or I (unless you’re a secret agent reading this and if that’s the case you can, no doubt, relate) you get a real feeling that as Velvet spirals further into this desperate situation she does so without the touchstones of anything that lends most people the strength to make it through daily life, let alone take on the only thing she has ever known, infiltrate foreign prisons and scramble continuously to keep one step ahead of the people coming for her. Highly trained people, I might add.

Again, you can see what fun this is, right? Velvet is a very intimate contemplation of the life of a spy, something all the above mentioned Hollywood affairs don’t always go out of their way to show you. Which is fine, because it’s probably better coming from Brubaker anyway.

At this point I am unsure whether Velvet is an ongoing, open-ended series or a limited series but I can only imagine that this initial 5-issue arc won’t be the last we see of Velvet Templeton.

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*When Bond movies are at their best. Think Connery era and perhaps some elements of Craig’s. I’ll not deny some appeal to some of the rest, but the camp factor that gradually took the reigns on the franchise in the 80’s – while fun at times – really lessens the tone established early on. Craig’s era pulls manages to get some of it back and they’re good, although they’ve perhaps hardened the series a bit much. You know the long-winded Peter Griffin/Chicken fight? Watch the beginning of Casino Royale  again and you’ll know exactly where they pulled that from.

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Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!

 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

One Response to Thee Comic Column #68: Brubaker & Epting’s Velvet
  1. Joe Grez

    Joe Grez Reply

    Right up my ally. Yet another good find by you Mr. Baker.

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