Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Comics Blah Blah Comics: Velvet

When I began my reassessment of my comic reading habits, one my decisions was to get in on the ground floor of something outside my usual go-to for comics.  

Admittedly I have tended towards super hero comics but as I've gotten older...way is a form that is less appealing to me than it once was.  I still love reading comics; at least, I think I do. I just need to find a new path that took me beyond the powers and spandex set.  

So along came Velvet

The pedigree of the book's creators was a major draw for me. I was a fan of the work of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting separately 
before they came together in spectacular fashion on Captain America.  

I did not follow the series at the time Ed and Steve first united on the title; I came to it later through various trades.  And what the team of Brubaker and Epting did on Captain America was nothing short of astonishing. It was good, solid storytelling. 

Of course, when one works for Marvel, one has to make allowances for crossovers and Ed Brubaker had to adjust for the doozy of one that was occurring at the time, Civil War. Yet it was a testament to Brubaker's skill that he was still able to weave the events of that crossover with his own ongoing narrative. 

But I digress. This is ostensibly about Velvet, the creator owned series published by Image. Here, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting have full reign over their own character. 

And what a character Velvet Templeton is. When we meet her, she's a secretary for a high level spy agency in the early 1970's. The agency is shaken to its core when one of its top agents is killed in an ambush. The agent was betrayed and the path of that betrayal leads back into the agency.  

For Velvet, the wheels begin turning and we realize there's more to her than being a secretary. Much, much more.   

Velvet starts with a murder and before the first issue is over, Ms. Templeton is at the center of a dark tableau that has her marked as guilty in the agent's death. Bringing to bear remarkable skills and training that have long gone unnoticed behind a secretary's desk, Velvet embarks on a mission to clear her name and find the real killer, the real traitor.  

Steve Epting's art is perfect for this series. He has a sense of realism in his pencils that is stylishly underscored with a pallette of shadows that lends the proceedings an air of almost being still photos from a James Bond movie.  Yet Steve's layouts are fluid and graceful. Action and violence are effectively displayed. And his Velvet Templeton is quite a captivating person. 

From the narrative, we learn that Velvet has been involved with this agency for quite awhile. Ed Brubaker notes in the letter pages (Wow! Letter pages!) that she is in her early 40's. And she looks it. Not to say she isn't very beautiful; Velvet is a striking image of a very lovely woman. But a lot of artists seem to have two ages for adults in comics: 20ish and senior citizen. But under Epting's pencil and pen, Velvet looks like a woman in her early 40's. The beauty of her features tempered with the weight of too many secrets, too many deaths.  Visually, Velvet Templeton is truly remarkable. 

In terms of the story, Velvet is no less remarkable under the care and guidance of writer Ed Brubaker.  Velvet is intelligent, insightful and extremely good at what she does. But she has her flaws. She is burdened with the things she has done and seen as well as the knowledge that there is much that remains beyond her scope; she is frustrated by this as she continues to search for answers in a world of spies who are not known for giving any answers. Not without a price, anyway. 

The time setting for Velvet is a very clever choice for the series. In the early 70's, before the advent of cell phones and the internet, it's easier to drop out of sigh but it's also harder to find answers to questions. Toss in the back drop of the Cold War, the disillusionment of Vietnam and the gender politics around a nascent feminist movement, Velvet has a rich background to work with.  

Over all, I have not regretted putting Velvet on my pull list. The 5 issues that have come out so far have not only been enjoyable but frequently re-read, the series is just that good.  

Kudos to Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting for creating this fascinating character. I hope we have a long time exploring the dark and sinister spy world of Velvet Templeton

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