Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Colours: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Publisher: Image Comics
Review by Patrick McAleer
Image comics Velvet #1 scratches an itch many us of have – a longing for a decent spy/espionage thriller, something there’s a paucity of in the comic book world. Written by master of the modern noir comic Ed Brubaker, who has his old Captain America and Winter Soldier artist and colourist on board, Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser respectively. So it’s safe to say that this new series is just dripping with talent. Anyone who follows Mr Brubaker’s work through the likes of series such as Fatale and Criminal, knows he likes to take his readers to the darker corners of the human pysche. He lets us peek at the underbelly of society and its broken inhabitants. Who, lets be honest, make for far more interesting character studies than the clean cut heroes that saturate this medium.
With Velvet, Brubaker turns his eye to the murky world of spies, espionage and secretive government agencies. This first issue opens with the assassination of a secret agent on an undercover assignment. The fact that this murdered agent was the best the clandestine organization ARC-7 had to offer sets up the central ‘whodunnit’ plot line.
The book’s main protagonist, the eponymous Velvet (last name Templeton) is introduced as nothing more than a secretary to ARC-7’s Director. As the book progresses we learn that she wasn’t always just a secretary, that she is in fact, a very, very capable woman. That fact coupled with the soft spot she had for the murdered agent (with whom she’d had a fling) drive her to try and uncover the truth surrounding his demise, but it’s a truth that may lead closer to home than she first imagined.
Brubaker’s skill as a storyteller is stamped all over this first issue. His 1973 set tale of spies, dead bodies and double-crosses owes much to the paranoid spy thrillers of the Cold War era. His pacing is excellent, from the action sequences to flashbacks to the more slow burning office scenes. This allows for quite a bit of exposition, which is necessary if we are to believe that Velvet far from being a simple pen-pusher, has a dark history making her an altogether more dangerous proposition. Whilst only one issue in, it is refreshing to see such a strongly written and empowered central female character.
As for the art, I don’t think it would be possible to over-state just how much Steve Epting’s pencils compliment the tale Brubaker is crafting. Whilst some artists’ work lend themselves to lighter, more fun stories, Epting’s pencils are serious and a perfect fit for this title. From his immensely realistic and deeply expressive faces to his expansive page-wide panel choices, Epting’s work lends a cinematic quality to this book. His art is just sumptuous with some very detailed backgrounds that you could just lose yourself in.
Colours are by Elizabeth Breitweiser, whose work on Winter Soldier is reason enough to read that series if you haven’t already. Here again, she doesn’t disappoint, bringing the full majesty of her palette to bear, lending a neo-noir mood to the book. That Velvet #1 works so well as a gritty espionage thriller is in large part due to the talent of Breitweiser.
Overall this is a shin-kicker of a first issue, demanding your attention and repaying it with a great story and fantastic art. The book ends with a nice little essay from Brubaker’s pal Jess Nevins, detailing the history of the espionage genre in fiction. All in all, I’m now in the mood to go and watch some old movies like the Quiller Memorandum and The Eiger Sanction. You know when a comic book puts you in that mood, the creative team behind it have hit their mark.
Patrick is a contributing writer for Drunk On Comics. You can follow him on Twitter at @RepStones.