Writer Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (‘Captain America’) are back together and back delving into the grainy, hard-boiled world of the espionage game with their new Image series ‘Velvet’. Set in 1973, with many flashback to earlier times, the story opens with a spy referred to as X-14, working for the most secret of secret agencies, Arc-7, as his tightly executed mission goes south. This doesn’t happen. As narrated by the book’s lead character, Velvet Templeton who works directly for the agency’s director, the agency is the most efficient spy group in the world. Their agents rarely get killed and their missions are never compromised. Until now.
The investigation into X-14’s death is headed up by another agent X-33, but his findings don’t sit right with Velvet, who we come to discover has a past not only with X-14 but other agents and possesses a nearly photographic memory. She launches her own investigation, but gets caught at the wrong place at the wrong time, forcing her to go on the run herself.
This book was top notch all the way. Tightly, tensely written with what could be a rote spy tale, instead this story is gripping and draws you in almost from the start. The dialogue and narration flow naturally. Velvet’s voice is unique and not stale at all. There are certainly noir tropes (the blinds) but that felt more like a required homage than falling into any sort of laziness.
The late 60s-early 70s setting added a layer of grittiness as well, as in one scene two characters in a vintage Mustang zip through the streets of New York, passing movie theaters playing classic XXX porno movies and kung-fu flicks. It’s also a fresh idea for a spy story, which typically are either set in the present or in the swingin’ 60s, a la the classic Sean Connery 007 films.
And by now, Brubaker and Epting have gelled into one of those comic dream teams whose work and style is tailor-made for each other. That grittiness and graininess in the narrative is perfectly embodied by Epting’s coarse artwork. Spaking of 007, the male spies have a Bond-like suaveness to them, but are a little scruffier, in keeping with the looser times. Their hair’s a bit longer and shaggier and not slicked back and neat.
Velvet herself, while clearly beautiful, has a natural, imperfection to her look. It reminded me of later actresses like Margot Kidder or Karen Allen, beautiful but with a rougher edge. And getting back to the writing, this is no dainty flower. While the other secretaries are bawling in the bathroom, after learning of X-14’s passing, she– the woman there who was probably closest to him– remains icy in her resolve to help in her own way to solve the killing. She’s shown drinking and smoking (and not just tobacco). There is an efficiency and determination driving her, while she does betray a few sentiments through her narration.
This is my pick of the week! It’s simply excellent! It all works perfectly. It’s thrilling, the dialogue is great, the art is the perfect accompaniment… I have no complaints! Okay one minor one. Velvet sounds like a stripper’s name. But that’s it! And that’s not enough to deduct points from my grade.
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art and over by Steve Epting