In October of 2013, I posted this review of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s new series Velvet on my website Comics Con Queso;
Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are a powerhouse team. Their work on Captain America is the best the character is likely ever going to see for the foreseeable future. You can thank Ed Brubaker personally for revitalizing the character to the point where he wasn’t a joke to the majority of the comic buying public. It is also a testament to his work that the next film will be drawing largely from his lore. The reason his Marvel work resonated so much is because Ed Brubaker knows how to play with convention and genre tropes, respectfully, while turning them on their ear and defying expectations.
Brubaker’s work with Velvet is more of what we have come to expect from him. Character work and atmosphere. Plot and mood. Much like his other creator-owned work, such as Fatale, Incognito, orCriminal, the world that we are dropped into feels fully realized and developed. Like stories have been being told about these characters for years and the blood and sweat has been spilled over them before we ever crack the page. It doesn’t come off as inaccessible, because we fill in gaps in our knowledge fairly quickly with pertinent details of the who and general back-story, but the book feels very much like the middle of a longer story with fully realized characters and that works very much to its advantage.
Velvet is a period piece, set in the 1970s with flashbacks to the sixties and all of it feels like a James Bond novel filtered through the lens of a grungy late-seventies film renaissance aesthetic. Like if Coppola directed You Only Live Twice. Steve Epting’s art is vibrant while being simultaneously moody and portrays the eras of the narrative with equal distinction and clarity.
Personally, I think this is his best work since he launched Criminal a few years ago. It is a well plotted, tightly-paced, impeccably drawn espionage genre yarn that resembles nothing else on the rack. Brubaker knows how to write a spy thriller, he did it quite well on his Captain America run, but freed from the reigns of Marvel’s editorial hands, he can truly let loose and keep us guessing from month to month. The only guess we can be confident in making is that each issue will be better than the last.
In the lead-up to writing One Fate For Failure, I decided to engage myself in an attempt to read and watch different entries in the spy genre to help see what sort of story I truly wanted to craft. One of the things I did was revisit Velvet, still in publication at Image Comics. The story is still ongoing but I pulled the first two collected editions off of the shelf to see what I could learn from a more accomplished storyteller working in the genre I had chosen.
Ed Brubaker knows how to put together one hell of a potboiler. I can’t think of many other writers working in the comics industry who have as firm a command of interlocking and complex narrative construction as he does. Looking at his work on things like Sleeper, Fatale, and even his run on Captain America, it is easy to see that Brubaker knows how to work with and around the tropes of the genre he is dealing with to present a story that is equal parts familiar and refreshing. He does it with the noir tale in his latest series The Fade Out, but that’s an entirely different conversation.
Velvet feels very much like a love letter to sixties spy-drama. It oozes the careful intricacy of a John LeCarre novel with the sense of adventure that comes from the world of the James Bond films. Epting’s depictions of the characters and the action is not overly saturated lending a quality of articulated realism to the proceedings. Brubaker’s choice to craft a fictional spy service with the X-operatives of the Arc-1 office gives the reader a hint that he is telling a story on an heightened level of reality, allowing for him to operate with a different set of rules than other writers working in the genre.
As a character, Velvet Templeton is uniformly interesting because we see her at various stages in her life as we flash back to her time as an active field agent in the fifties apart from the goings-on in the A plot. The idea of the veteran agent is an interesting one, especially the way that it is presented here with her story kicking off after spending years behind a desk. The idea of the seasoned agent is one that is ripe for examination but one that I have not personally encountered often, mainly because the narratives these stories tend to follow require the abilities of a younger protagonist.
The narrative here is one that relies on a common trope of the spy genre, that of the internal mole. It was the driving force of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and a myriad of other entries in the spy thriller oeuvre. The key to making it work so well here is getting the reader invested in the characters and Brubaker’s careful peeling back of the layers in the mystery, each time giving us deeper insight into the people that populate the world he has created, does exactly that.
I do not hesitate to recommend the series because as hopeful as I was upon reading the first issue, subsequent chapters have more than exceeded my expectations.