Today, Drew and Greg are discussing Velvet 8, originally released November 5th, 2014.
Drew: Did you enjoy Skyfall? I enjoyed it well enough, but found myself staunchly defending it — specifically from attacks that suggest that the film ripped off the “villain gets captured as part of the plan” plot points from The Dark Knight and The Avengers. I can’t deny the similarities — it does indeed pose a classic example of what TV Tropes and Idioms identifies as the “Batman Gambit” — but what irked me is how myopic the argument is. The Batman Gambit is much, much older than either The Avengers or The Dark Knight (indeed, the name “Batman Gambit” is based on instances of the device from comics that long predate Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, and has been used in everything from Die Hard to Reindeer Games), so to suggest that Skyfall‘s use of the devise is derivative, it must also be true of The Avengers and The Dark Knight. My point is, I’m willing to forgive the use of a trope if it’s done well, and I’d argue that Skyfall does it better than those other two films.* All that is to say that I enjoyed Velvet 8‘s own Batman Gambit for precisely the same reason: it’s really well done.
No, Velvet doesn’t allow herself to be captured, but she does count on the protocols of ARC-7 (protocols she would know very well) to give her otherwise impossible access to the director’s office. Of course, an office building’s response to a bomb threat is decidedly simpler to predict than, say, hoping that the top spy agency’s technology expert would inadvertently give you control over said agency’s computer network, but that just makes all of the cat-and-mouse that much easier to follow here. Perhaps the biggest difference, though, is the fact that Velvet is our protagonist, so we never for a second thing that her plan might be as simple as actually holding the director for ransom.
That allows writer Ed Brubaker to skip any of the pretense, jumping us straight into the action. He does flip back to give us a few procedural beats, but that’s more to show us just how badass Velvet is (and to explain why she couldn’t just level with the director), than to mislead us. Still, while we know that Velvet’s up to more than she’s lead ARC-7 to believe, Brubaker cleverly witholds exactly what it is she’s looking for until the end of the issue (and even then, we don’t understand the implications), keeping our focus off of the MacGuffin, and firmly on the risks involved.
Chief amongst those risks is Sergeant Roberts, who, in spite of (or perhaps specifically because of) suspecting the worst of Velvet, is pretty quick about sussing out her real motivations. Or again, at least as far as they get her in the building. At any rate, he connects the dots and realizes that they’re playing right into her hand, and rushes back to the office for their second altercation. It goes decidedly worse for him than their last one.
Actually, that “predictable” kind of distills Velvet’s entire advantage for the issue — and arguably the whole series — into one word. Even when Roberts figures things out faster than she would have liked, she has the leg up, because he’s just as predictable as the systems Velvet is exploiting. She still may not understand exactly what she’s up against, but she certainly knows what ARC-7 is going to do each step of the way.
What’s really fun about this issue, though, is that she’s able to take that knowledge and use it offensively. We’ve seen her on defense (or even retreat) for most of the series, but to see her using her institutional knowledge to gain access to ARC-7 demonstrates just how dangerous she can be. Even if we don’t fully understand exactly who she’s given herself access to, we know gaining that access is not something really anyone else would have been able to do.
Greg! There’s a lot to talk about here, but I think I might be most intrigued by the fallout from our discussion of issue 7, especially as it pertains to Roberts. He’s certainly not going to be looking on Velvet more favorably after this issue, but I’m also fascinated by the thought that his predictability makes him an inadequate adversary for Velvet. Would a field agent (as opposed to an investigator) have fared better in hand-to-hand combat against Velvet? Or, would somebody who gave her the benefit of the doubt for not being a terrorist have bought into her little charade in the first place?
*I should clarify: I don’t necessarily think that Skyfall is the better movie, just that the Batman Gambit is more internally justified. There are plenty of other, better criticisms that can be levied at the movie (particularly, that it too closely mirrors the plot of that other action classic: Home Alone), but in the end, whoever goes to a James Bond movie expecting a trope-free experience is an idiot.
Greg: I’m gonna take your final incendiary argument even further: anyone who goes to any movie, reads any comic, experiences any story expecting a trope-free experience is a… well, I don’t think I’m aggressive enough to use the word “idiot” (Drew is truly the bad boy of comics criticism), but they’re certainly misguided. Velvet‘s use of tropes goes well beyond the Batman Gambit. Hell, in the letters section of the issue, folks recommend Ed Brubaker other spy stories and true life books, revealing the deep-rooted tropes and signifiers in the spy genre. Tropes arise from what you might call a “familial joy”. We crave spy stories like Bond and Velvet because we know they have certain elements to them — elements often influenced by real life. To try and purposefully deny this kind of joy, rather owning it and crushing it with a home-run force, feels unnecessarily puritanical.
One thing that The Dark Knight and Skyfall (and for the first couple acts, Home Alone) had going for them, that this issue doesn’t as much, is a worthy adversary. Heath Ledger’s Joker is without a doubt the best part of Nolan’s middle chapter, and Javier Bardem’s Silva is slimy and terrifying in all the best ways. As you point out, Drew, Roberts’ predictability makes him “inadequate”, and while you’ll have to forgive me if I’m forgetting someone in this comic, but I’m not sure there is an ARC-7 related character who is adequate. I won’t lie, seeing Velvet’s plan go off with aplomb based on her wits and crackerjack fighting skills is viscerally fun, but I can’t help feel as though it would be more gripping with more of a struggle. Yes, she allows that Roberts did get the drop on her and would be able to physically overpower her, but winds up on top with not much fuss (she has a cracked rib, yes, but seems to be able to walk it off).
I’m hoping in future issues we see someone who is so familiar with ARC-7 protocol that they’re able to surpass and subvert it square off against the similarly inclined Velvet. Or perhaps Brubaker can take his cue from one of these aforementioned villains and deliver someone who has no recognizable compass, code, or system. Someone chaotic, whose movements and plans can’t be tracked, traced, or predicted. Someone that Brubaker might be hinting at with these cryptic final images:
Idiot or not, I’m excited for the next trope-filled issues.
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?
If I love TV Tropes and Idioms so much, why don’t I marry it?
I agree with Greg… “We crave spy stories like Bond and Velvet because we know they have certain elements to them…” Without them, there is a sense of dissatisfaction even though we accept that they are not original or mind-blowing.