VELVET Vol. 1: BEFORE THE LIVING END
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artists: Steve Epting with Elizabeth Breitweiser (colors)
$9.99, Image Comics, 128 pgs.
It’s 1973 and Jefferson Keller, Britain’s deadliest secret agent, has just been murdered. When the evidence implicates Velvet Templeton, secretary to the Director of the shadowy ARC-7 agency, Velvet is forced to go on the run to solve the mystery herself. What the agents pursuing Velvet don’t yet realize, though, is that Velvet is more than “just” a secretary: back in the ‘50s she was ARC-7’s lone female agent, trained in the arts of combat, seduction, and stealth…and she remembers her lethal craft very, very well.
This Cold War spy thriller is brought to you by the same writer/artist team that gave us the best Captain America run in modern comics history (including the story arcs The Death of Captain America and The Winter Soldier), so you know from the outset to expect action and international intrigue aplenty. What the reader might not be prepared for is Velvet herself: one of the best female protagonists in comics today, with great emotional depth and a rich back-story. Velvet is unusual for American comics. Not only is she a strong female lead, she’s in her 40s, an age demographic typically ignored by adventure comic books, especially those starring women. As the story unfolds, Velvet’s innermost self—the personality she has buried under years of training and pretense—reemerges, and we realize this is not just an adventure story. It’s the story of a woman grappling with regret, betrayal, and grief.
The action in VELVET is stylized, but realistic; combat is bloody and often fatal. Sexuality, itself a weapon in Velvet Templeton’s world, is treated with frank candor. This is a spy comic that manages to strike a perfect balance between the realities of Cold War espionage and the glamour of big-screen spy thrillers. Flawlessly written and elegantly drawn, it’s an incredibly satisfying comics experience courtesy of one of comicdom’s best creative teams.
TIPS FOR LIBRARIANS: This is another of Image Comics’ bargain-priced first volumes. Move quickly; when this book goes to its second and third printings (and it will) it will likely be priced higher. The story is not self-contained, though, and if history is any indicator, Brubaker is writing with the long-game in mind. You’re going to end up buying more of this series, but it’ll be worth the investment.
READERS’ ADVISORY NOTES: Readers with an appreciation for good female characters will love VELVET, as will fans of the Bourne and Bond film franchises. Because of the creative team’s track record, this is a good way to tempt die-hard superhero fans into trying their first non-superhero title, and there’s enough action that they won’t feel too far from their comfort zone. It’s also an excellent title with which to entice fans of spy thrillers who’d normally never read comics.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Violence, strong language, nudity/sexuality
Review © 2014, C. Michael Hall.