Review: VELVET #1

STK621580

VELVET #1
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Steve Epting
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: October 23, 2013

STK621580An operative from a super-secret, international spy agency in 1973 is caught unaware and gunned down — a seemingly impossible feat — and fingers begin to point every which way. Enter Velvet Templeton, middle-aged secretary to the Director, and woman with a shadowed past, and things start to unravel very quickly under the agency microscope. But is everything as it seems?

I am not a comic historian by any means, but I can recognize certain obvious accomplishments when I come across them. One of the most significant, and pertinent to the launch of this new creator-owned title, is Ed Brubaker’s role in the complete transformation of the figure of the femme fatale in comic books. Many writers in the medium can be said to represent female leads to a successful degree, but none other can be said to have transformed this particular archetype so completely, so that today, our expectations for what the femme fatale figure means is elevated many degrees over. It was Ed Brubaker who took Catwoman from object in her own series to subject, breathing complete agency into and surpassing the trope of a fallen woman who, while controlling those around her through sexual means, still needed to be saved or fulfilled by a man. And Selina Kyle hasn’t stood alone in benefitting from Brubaker’s hand. From Miss Misery in the series Sleeper, to Josephine in the aptly named Image Comics series Fatale, Brubaker has mastered the art of infusing subjecthood into these characters that would have been otherwise torn down by their own villainous ways, and put in their place in favor of showcasing their good man’s heroism. Because of Brubaker, we now expect better.

And in Velvet, that expectation is once again met. Characterized in this first issue with equal parts her sexual history, intellectual prowess, and physical capability, this high level secretary clearly has a more robust past than her current position would presume, and Brubaker wastes no time in sharing that with us. One part Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — where we cannot know who to trust and how twisted the agency agenda has become — and one part Mad Men with guns, this series already establishes the ARC in great detail, sharing plenty of information for an issue #1 to set the reader off on a good course for the series as a whole. We learn the structure of the operations. We learn a bit about Velvet’s relationship with both the agency and its operatives. And what we don’t know, as yet, is so well alluded to that one cannot help but want to come back next month for more and more clues.

Epting’s talents have been put to excellent use on this title, being particularly skilled in setting tension into any scene, however mundane. He also brings the reader an exceptional representation of a slightly older woman, of course still beautiful and physically superior, but never lets her physical appearance overwhelm the scene. Even in her lingerie or an evening gown, Velvet is a woman who captures men with her eyes and smarts, and all worry of James Bond-era exploitation goes out the window. Epting’s use of light and shadow, as well as his linework, is completely stunning, and captures every bit of grit and detail to set a mood with beautiful attention.

A brilliant start to a series I am over the moon to see on the stands, Velvet #1 is yet another masterpiece waiting to happen from the hands of Brubaker and Epting. It fills a lovely void in the market — that of the comic featuring an older woman not just in a starring role, and one that breaks through a significant genre fiction trope. Enough with middle-aged men moving real life chess pieces across a desk, with the ladies in slinky dresses simply standing by with the martini shaker in hand. A story of accomplishment and loss, honor and loyalty, Velvet is guaranteed gold for readers ready to see asses kicked across London, with enough mystery set up along the way to tickle your brain as well. Welcome back to the agency, Velvet. We didn’t know how much we were missing you until just now.

The Verdict: 9.5/10

 

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