Velvet 2

velvet 2

Today, Shelby and Ethan are discussing Velvet 2, originally released December 4th, 2013.

Shelby: I do so enjoy a good spy thriller. There’s something about the James Bonds, the Jason Bournes, the Ethan Hunts that is just impossibly cool. They’ve got the neatest gadgets and the most impressive skills. The life of a spy is built on lies, no one can really be trusted. The story is intrigue layered on mysteries, usually layered on top of betrayal. That’s why I think the mole-hunt/double agent story is my favorite kind of spy thriller; it transforms the necessity of the secrets and lies into a liability. Who better to hide from spies than another spy? Who could take down a secret agency other than one of its own? How is an agency supposed to find a mole when all its own tricks are being used against it? Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting take on these questions in their spy thriller Velvet, and it is exactly as fun as you would think.

Meet Velvet Templeton:

velvet templesmith

To anyone else, she is nothing more than secretary to the director of ARC-7, the spy agencies most spies have never even heard of. They’re the best of the best, so everyone is shocked when one of their best agents is killed in the field. Velvet is shocked as well, especially when all clues lead to another agent, now retired, as the one who betrayed him. She cannot believe it, so she takes it upon herself to visit one of the retired agent’s safehouses, where she finds him murdered as well. Unfortunately for Velvet, the whole thing was a set up, as Sgt. Roberts and his investigative unit find her in the middle of a crime scene she shouldn’t know exists. What Roberts doesn’t know is Velvet used to be codename: Valentine and a black ops agent at ARC-7 herself. She kicks the crap out of the team and makes her getaway. She sneaks onto the boat of her smuggler friend Burke, knowing that the only way she’ll get a chance to clear her name and find the real mole in the agency is to get out of England.

This book is just plain fun to read, and I love that the big master spy is a woman. I think it’s great that she took advantage of the fact that everyone would overlook her as a mere secretary. Before the top agent is killed, he is musing over how, after drinks one night, basically all the agents discovered they’d hooked up with Velvet, and they had all thought they were the only ones. I think it’s both awesome and hilarious that she out-spied the best spies just to get a few one-night stands. Brubaker does a great job of keeping her human; he has her acknowledge that she’ll get hurt less jumping out of the window in a stealth suit without forgetting the fact that she will still get hurt.

that's gonna leave a mark

Mostly, I just love seeing women kicking ass, and Brubaker definitely delivers that. Epting is great on pencils in this book; I love his design for Velvet. It reminds me a lot of Michael Lark’s Forever Lazarus; unlike most women in comics, these gals look like regular women. Sure, women who work out and are in great shape, but regular women. There’s no boob window in Velvet’s stealth suit because that would be silly nonsense; it’s function over form, and I’m happy to see it. His style is very appropriate for the book: gritty and dark but still elegant. Basically everything you need for a spy thriller.

I picked this book up because the owner of my LCS put it in my hands and said, “read it.” He’s never steered me wrong, and this is no exception. I cannot wait to learn more about Velvet’s past. As the director was talking to another agent about how she ended up his secretary, it seems there was already suspicion that she or someone else in the agency was a double agent. She became his secretary because he couldn’t believe that she was the one who was compromised. When Roberts asked why she left the field, he was told it was above his clearance level, so something BIG must have gone down. It almost seems like she was a mole, but a mole for the agency within the agency itself: like she was given an innocuous position in order to keep an eye on things without being suspected. With only two issues so far, literally anything is possible at this point. Ethan, what do you think? Or is it too soon to ask for speculation on a title like this?

Ethan: That’s the best part of speculation – it’s NEVER too early to start! And it’s even more fun to speculate because it’s a story about spies who are pretty much paid to lie all the time. From the disguises to the tactics of misdirection to the straight-up stealth gadgets, the best spies (and therefore the ones who live the longest) are the ones who are the best at lying! Between the self-selection of the people going into the field and the natural selection of who survives to old age, no wonder the super-spy community is so tense all the time, trying to keep an eye out for the next spectacular betrayal.

Which leaves me wondering which panels in these first 2 issues are secretly really significant. Which glance or posture or piece of paper on a desk is going to be part of the big reveal? More importantly, how much should we be trusting Velvet? Is she really looking into all of this as part of a “who watches the watchers?” kind of angle as you’re suggesting, Shelby, or does she have her own angle we haven’t found out about yet? Or, even crazier, could she in fact be the one who murdered these two agents? I know that one’s a bit paranoid, but a lot can happen in between the panels the reader gets to see, and maybe it’s unfair to be thinking a spy can’t just be a good-hearted person looking out for the agency, but again, you don’t get to the upper eschelons of espionage by helping old ladies across the street. Unless it’s part of your surveillance of the old lady’s routine before you assassinate her.

I liked the point you made about showing Velvet as a somewhat realistic human being – watching her fly face-first towards that desk made me cringe. Little touches like that do a great job of grounding the setting into a semblance of reality, which is a perfect setup for the decidedly unrealistic 007-stunts that Velvet pulls off and which make the genre so thrilling and visceral. Epting is adept at tapping into the bone-cracking, superhuman, Bourne Identity style of close quarters combat with his little side-panel depictions of how the clinical, hyper-trained part of Velvet’s mind is working out her every move through the fight:

V2_combat

The scrap of a vintage training manual feels authentic, down to the Figure #1 annotation. It’s a great, wordless way of fueling the transition of the reader’s perception of Velvet from “secretary” to “terrifically competent agent.”

So, just in the interest of keeping score, she has 1) fought her way out of a room full of armed secret agents, 2) jumped through a window, 3) successfully glided between two buildings, at night, without looking before she leapt, 4) fell through a second window), and then 5) fought her way out of the building she just crash landed into. As far as I’m concerned, her scary black ops bona fides are firmly established.

But hey, while we’re at it, why not show her doing this?

V2_halfcrazy

While it’s clear she’s been trained to do a lot of difficult things, I’m pretty sure that “How to Disable Your Pursuers by Weaponizing Your Own Crippled Vehicle, While Comandeering a Passing Motorcycle Still in Motion” wasn’t really part of the core curriculum. Given Velvet’s own admission that the stunt is “more than half-crazy,” I think we can assume that the move was her own little improvization. It’s only the second issue, and she’s already starting to make James Bond look a bit tame. With so much great action crammed into the short time we’ve spent with her, I have no idea where we’re going to go next. I can only hope we’ll continue to get more of the beautifully choreographed insanity as we follow Velvet on the trail to track down the rogue agent.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

6 comments on “Velvet 2

  1. I really love the first two issues but I can’t help but be pessimistic. I feel like this series could easily devolve into Brubaker’s middle of the arc redundancy. Essentially, the beginnings and endings of his arcs are usually always amazing but the middle parts end up being redundant and a slog to read through. Love his writing but can’t shake the feeling something like that is going to happen.

  2. Guys, I love the tags on this article; kudos.

    Also, I really like this book. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m pretty sure this is my first foray into Brubaker’s work, but I always knew his stuff was quality and this certainly is. Can’t wait to read more.

  3. I love Epting’s art in this series. I haven’t been able to pinpoint how exactly he does it, but there’s something incredibly detailed and realistic about his drawings that make me feel like the characters and situations are real. Shelby mentions how well Brubaker details Velvet’s thought-processes and responses to pain, but I feel like all of those realistic details are echoed visually. There’s no visual exaggeration to make the character seem tougher, she’s just a human being badass.

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