Greg: When’s the last time you dorked out in public? For me, “dorking out” is a simultaneously freeing yet embarrassing experience. The feeling of visceral pleasure and physical high you get from an unbound joy something gives you, crashing into the realization that the folks you’re dorking out too don’t have much of a frame of context, and can’t join in. I once spent five minutes dorking out over a long-take fight scene in Skyfall to my parents, who in response, coughed awkwardly and said “That sounds nice.” They’re gonna have to look out, though, because Velvet is so staggeringly good and checks every box of stuff I love, that it’s 100% being added to my “dork-out” pile.
The story of this issue is basically one long chase, albeit one fraught with nihilism and existential futility. Colt, who worked with and underestimated Velvet, keeps running into “breadcrumbs” set by her. While he gets pretty good at dispatching whatever miscellaneous crime lord Velvet pissed off and set up for Colt, he remains less good at finding Velvet herself. The patterns seem erratic and atypical for a master spy, which leads Colt to commiserate and theorize with Sergeant Roberts. Roberts thinks she might be tracing the footsteps of X-14, an agent she killed, and cleaning up her mess. While Colt disagrees, they both concede that she knows every plan and protocol they can throw at her. She will always be one step ahead — a fact that throws itself into Roberts’ face when we switch first-person perspectives to him. He finds out that, not only is Velvet in London with the agency’s director tied up to a bomb, but she is literally in the car park below the building.
Does the cliche of not judging books by covers apply to comics? I think not, given the reliance on images to tell stories, and I must marvel at what an excellent story artist Steve Epting has crafted in his cover.
To an extent, you can’t analyze “cool”, which this cover oozes like a TMNT sequel. It evokes gritty, hardboiled ‘70s grindhouse, which in turn evokes gritty, hardboiled ‘40s and ‘50s pulp novels (even down to the typeface, being a big ol’ pulp font aficionado myself). That in of itself is enough to be cool in my book, yet it goes further in actually telling a story. I love how the tagline effectively summarizes the main plot engine, and promises some of the visceral thrills and intrigue you’ll get if you take a read. A sales pitch and effective storytelling, all in one soundbite. Though, really, you could pretty much throw a dart at any image in this issue and find a compelling cover choice. Particularly this image on the right — so cool.
As I mentioned, this issue permeates with anxiety of the unknown. Where is Velvet? Why is she doing this? What is her ultimate plan? It seems tricky and possibly boring to sustain a narrative based solely on haphazard guesses and false starts for 20ish pages, yet writer Ed Brubaker continues to grab me by the throat and not let go. I am immediately engrossed in this world, and while some of that is personal bias in favor of this hard-boiled genre stuff, there’s also an intricate yet efficient story construction that can’t help but feel engaging.
With the long game taken over by this “Where’s Velvet?” conundrum, Brubaker focuses on his short game. Every lead Colt visits plays like a mini-story, complete with beginning, middle, and end. It almost plays like a super-condensed season of television, with finding Velvet serving as the season-long goal, and each incident serving as an episode. Brubaker doesn’t just slam us with mini-story after mini-story either. He plays with tempo, pacing, information given and withheld, and Colt’s attitude. I marvel at the efficacy of these images: with just two panels, Brubaker and Breitweiser have literally told a complete story. Insane!
What say you, Drew? Were you drawn into the mysterious and shady world of Velvet, or did it leave you asking for more? Also, I recently dorked out to you on a beach (!) about how the twist in The Sixth Sense is both an interesting plot device and an organic extension of the story. I hope that didn’t embarrass you too badly.
Drew: If I remember correctly, we were only talking about The Sixth Sense because I was pitching a story with a ham-fisted twist — I may be embarrassed, but it certainly isn’t your fault. Actually, your point about the ending serving both as a twist AND as a consequent of the story is very well taken, and I think you’re absolutely right to bring it up here. The organic extension of the intrigue and deception of spying leads Roberts to read Velvet’s actions as guilt. Intriguingly, that same distrust leads Colt to read her actions as innocence — in a world where nothing is what it seems, perhaps going on a killing spree isn’t all bad.
Of course, there also seems to be some predisposition to these conclusions. Colt seems to have fond memories of Velvet, even if he does feel misled about who she actually was. But Roberts chalks their difference in opinion up to something else: their job.
Roberts’ “…think you’re so different…” is just enough of a non sequitur to make it clear that he’s had a few drinks (though his posture, loosened tie, and the fact that he’s lowering an empty glass help drive it home), but he clearly has a chip on his shoulder about Field Ops. Heck, he goes so far as to refer to them derisively as “you people.” Perhaps the emotional baggage we need to worry about isn’t Colt’s, after all.
But I think the notion of different conclusions coming from different perspectives is an important one. Roberts is an investigator, so is inclined to presume guilt, where Colt is a Field Op, and is inclined to see things from Velvet’s perspective. Colt sees what Velvet is doing as exactly what he would do if he were innocent and in the same situation, where Roberts sees it as exactly what a criminal would do if she were guilty. It’s a great scene, and establishes both of these characters’ motives going forward.
Which brings me to that murder in East Berlin you highlighted above. You’re right in just how efficacious Epting is here — we’d already established the rhythms of Colt being chased by surprise set-ups (including that he’s enough of a professional to get away every time) — but for me, the real power of that sequence comes from the context of the panels leading up to it, where Colt explains just how helpful Gretchen would be to his investigation. Indeed, he’s so suspicious after she turns up dead that he starts to think Roberts might be right.
We know Velvet didn’t sic any goons on this girl, but Colt doesn’t yet have any reason to suspect that someone else might be cleaning up a mess. His only lead so far has turned up dead, and he’s receiving no support from ARC-7 as far as his investigation has gone. Actually, that meeting with Roberts may serve yet another purpose: to remind us that Colt isn’t a trained investigator. He’s able to follow hunches and has assets he can call upon, but none of those work for him in this issue, leaving him with nowhere to go with this theory.
Boy, it takes a pretty entertaining issue to make us forget that the last one ended with Velvet kidnapping Director Manning, but this one more than delivers. Like The Fugitive, which this scenario obviously has a great deal in common with, the investigators are as important to the story as the fugitive in question, so I think this pause from Velvet’s thread is not only warranted, but necessary for establishing Roberts’ state of mind as he confronts Velvet in the car park next month (or however this negotiation ends up playing out). I can’t wait.
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?