Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Velvet 9, originally released February 4th, 2015.
Spencer: Who can you trust? This can be a hard question for anyone to answer — how many of us have trusted someone who didn’t end up being worthy of it? — but for a spy, whose entire life revolves around secrets and lies, it’s practically impossible. Velvet Templeton is a spy on the run, further minimizing the list of people she can trust — even those she knows aren’t against her can’t necessarily be trusted to keep secrets from her employers. So far Velvet’s wise choices when it comes to trust have kept her one step ahead of her pursuers, but Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s Velvet 9 may find her making her first mistake by trusting Damian Lake even just a little — and in doing so, Velvet may have just found herself an opponent who can finally keep up with her.
Damian Lake, of course, is the mysterious mental patient Velvet arranged to have transferred, and eventually acquired, back in last month’s issue. He’s the former head of ARC-7’s Intel Division, who supposedly went insane after his team was murdered by Soviet agents, and Velvet’s looking to him for answers since his institutionalization took place before she was ordered to kill Richard — and, thus, assumedly before whatever conspiracy she’s caught up in was established.
I’m going to pause here for a second just to remind you all that releasing Damian was a plan that took three issues to pull off; it’s been Velvet’s goal for so long that it’s clear she has no other leads to follow up on. Velvet seems supremely confident that Damian couldn’t possibly be working for her enemy, but I have to wonder how much of that confidence comes from fact, and how much is borne from the amount of work Velvet’s already invested in Damian and that she has no one else to turn to for answers?
Either way, while Velvet may not fully trust Damian, she at least seems convinced that he can help her. He certainly offers up some juicy information, revealing that he once stumbled upon the same conspiracy Velvet’s now wrapped up in. The murder of Damian’s team was actually a hit meant to end his investigation; ever shrewd, Velvet wonders how Damian survived.
I love how smug Damian looks here; Epting certainly has a gift for depicting natural expressions and body language that perfectly express the personalities of the characters, and Epting grants Damian a presence that’s consistently smarmy, perhaps even a bit arrogant. He’s not the most cooperative of informants, practically dragging Velvet to France while offering her little in return, all the while engaging in some verbal gymnastics that could simply be seen as an old man stretching his wings after years of confinement, but which in reality are simply a skilled agent testing another skilled agent.
Velvet 9 is light on action, so this may actually be as exciting as the issue gets, but I don’t mean that as a criticism; there’s a certain energy even to Velvet and Damian’s verbal sparring, and Epting adds tons of class to the scene, making each panel a joy to sit back and absorb.
The main significance of these scenes, though, has been to build up Damian as a significant threat, capable of standing up to Velvet — at least mentally — where many others have failed. After the image above Damian takes a bathroom break and sneaks out the window, all while Sergeant Roberts discovers Damian Lake’s true backstory: not only did he kill his team, but he apparently did so in order to gain entry to the very same group that’s since framed Velvet!
When discussing issue 8 Drew and Greg mentioned how Velvet had yet to find somebody who could truly stand up to her — even Sergeant Roberts was too predictable to keep up with Velvet for too long — and Damian fills that role handedly. While we haven’t seen how he handles himself physically yet, he’s certainly proved himself mentally adept enough to escape from Velvet; moreover, he has knowledge of the same ARC-7 protocols Velvet’s been exploiting as well as inside information from Velvet’s enemies that she isn’t privy to.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Damian isn’t going to underestimate Velvet. Unlike everyone else Velvet’s faced thus far, he knows exactly what she’s after, and he’s her only opponent to have never known Velvet as a secretary. To him she’s always been a deadly spy and secret agent, and thus he has no reason to hold back whatsoever. With all of Velvet’s typical advantages neutralized, it should be fascinating to see how she and Damian deal with each other on their next meeting.
This is exciting new territory for Velvet. We’re used to seeing Velvet always come out on top; she may make minor slip-ups, but she’s always calm, cool, collected, and one step ahead of everybody she meets. Even now Velvet’s still calm, cool, and collected, but with Damian loose she’s not only made an enemy capable of actually matching her, but he’s free because of her actions. Where else can she turn? Are there any clues left to follow? Is there anybody Velvet can trust, anything she can be certain about, or is she going to be forced to rely only on herself even more than before? I’ve never been able to predict the twists and turns Brubaker and Epting have thrown our way, but with the world of Velvet now flipped so thoroughly upside-down, I have even less idea where this book will go next than I normally do — and that’s an exciting feeling!
Drew, what do you make of Damian? Do you have any theories about where the story may go next? Did you still enjoy this issue even if it was lighter on action than usual? Doesn’t Sergeant Roberts have the coolest sideburns around?
Drew: They’re pretty good sideburns, but this being the ’60s, I hesitate to call them the coolest around — presumably Elvis is part of this universe.
Anyway, I think you’re right to suggest Damian is a worthy adversary for Velvet. Not only does he get the drop on her (he’s basically the first since whoever set Velvet up in issue 1), he also clearly has clues she desperately needs. There’s no doubt his story was tailored to gain Velvet’s trust and convince her to bring him to France, but it also reveals an intimate knowledge of the organization Velvet is after — how else could he have composed such a compelling story?
Actually, Spencer, I’m not as convinced as you are that it is a story. It occurs to me that ARC-7’s unofficial account is just as doctored as their official one — especially if the conspiracy goes as high as Velvet suspects it does. I mean, if Damian truly had stumbled into a conspiracy at the highest levels of ARC-7, isn’t this exactly how the conspirators would cover it up? Offer an official version everyone accepts as false (but won’t question unless necessary), but keeping another version handy to discredit Damian in the event that he ever got out? For me, I think a big part of this series going forward will be tension between these versions of the story, and what they mean for Velvet.
That’s a refreshing twist, because it would have been quite easy to make the tension about Damian’s sanity — is he telling the truth, or just delusional? — but this offers a much more compelling reason for him to deceive Velvet, making it much harder to tell if he is. In either case, he’s still incredibly valuable to Velvet, since he at least has a lead, and at best can name names in the conspiracy she’s looking to crack. Of course, now she‘s chasing a superspy who she doesn’t know she can trust, one who is either uncovering a conspiracy, or is part of it — if Roberts’s experience over the last 9 issues is any indication, that’s an extremely difficult task.
But I’m afraid that that’s all I can really predict: that Velvet will focus on recovering Damian. Brubaker and Epting play both versions of their story with enough plausibility to give me pause. Intriguingly, ARC-7’s “off the record” version of the story is the only one we don’t see explicitly. Damian’s telling of his own version is intercut with images of that story, and even the official story that everyone acknowledges as false gets a couple panels.
But what to make of the lack of panels depicting that third version of the story? Does it indicate falsehood, in that we have no visual confirmation? Or perhaps it indicates truth — the very fact that Damian’s version is rendered makes it more similar to the known lie, leaving only the un-rendered version of the story. In true Velvet fashion, even the hints are ambiguous.
These questions have absolutely captured my imagination, but honestly, I don’t need or expect them to be answered any time soon. First things first, Velvet has to escape from the train (where she’s now at gunpoint!), then she’ll have to track down Damian, who — for one reason or another — clearly doesn’t want to be captured. How she accomplishes that is enough of a question for now. Exactly who she (and by extension, the audience) can trust can be settled later.
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