Velvet #1 by Ed Brubaker – Friday Flash Review [Bane of King/Shadowhawk]
Bane of Kings and Shadowhawk review the first issue in a new creator-owned series by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.
“An excellent opening to what looks set to be a very strong series. Count me in for more.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields
“Quite a slow-burner, and a rather interesting take on the espionage game.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Bane of Kings:
Art: Steve Epting | Colours: Elizabeth Breitweiser | Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
ED BRUBAKER and STEVE EPTING redefined Captain America with the “Winter Soldier” saga… and everything they’ve done so far has been leading to VELVET!
When the world’s best secret agent is killed, Velvet Templeton, the Personal Assistant to the Director of the Agency, is drawn off her desk and back into the field for the first time in nearly 20 years… and is immediately caught in a web of mystery, murder and high-octane action.
Sexy and provocative, with a dark twist on the spy genre, this EXTRA-LENGTH first issue by two of the industry’s best-selling creators will knock you out!
Image have been putting out a huge host of number ones recently. Rat Queens, Lazarus, Pretty Deadly and more have all been new series released in the last four or five months and I’m sure there’s plenty more aside from these three series. The latest addition to these ranks is Velvet, which I’ve been highly anticipating for a while now, mainly because of the superb creative team of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, who worked together on Captain America for Marvel before. Whilst we’re on the subject, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has also had its first trailer debut this week, and it looks freaking awesome, so I strongly advise you to check it out if you haven’t seen it already.
The book itself kicks off very strong indeed. Steve Epting’s artwork is very awesome, and that’s reinforced by the strong writing of Ed Brubaker – who provides an excellent opening issue to help make me look forward to #2. Our female lead character Velvet is a refreshing break from the male characters that the spy genre seems to be full of, and she can certainly kick ass and take some names if the example in this issue is anything to go by. On top of that, she’s also a strong and well rounded protagonist, coming across as a three-dimensional character that never feels like a female version of James Bond at any point in the whole issue, which is always a plus – as more original female characters are always welcomed.
I’m not very well versed in the spy genre outside of James Bond, Anthony Horowitz’s young adult Alex Rider series and the odd mystery novel, but recently – I’ve begun to delve more and more into this series. Take Ales Kot’s Zero for example – I loved #1 – another recent Image book, and Thief of Thieves, a Robert Kirkman series from Image as well that’s been going on for a bit longer. Whilst Thief of Thieves may be a heist book as opposed to a spy book, it still contains some similarities and I reckon fans of anything that I’ve mentioned in this paragraph will enjoy what goes on in Velvet. It creates an interesting mystery and ends on a strong note, certainly making sure that readers will stick around for #2 and if everything remains this level of quality throughout the series, then we really could have something special here – and of course, it isn’t really a surprise given the strong creative team behind this book.
The only problem that I had with Velvet #1 is the tendency for exposition, and some Worldbuilding doesn’t feel as polished as it should be even if it may be necessary for the story. Aside from that though, Velvet #1 might just be one of the best first issues that I’ve read this year, as Brubaker and Epting deliver on all accounts, making this series damn near essential reading if you haven’t picked this up on Wednesday already.
Also, just how awesome is that cover? It’s certainly one of my favourite covers for an Image book that we’ve seen in a while, and it certainly adds to the whole spy theme with the way it’s done, and I’m hoping to see more covers of this quality as the book goes on – with Epting being in fine form so far this is a trend that I hope he can continue.
If you missed this book, I strongly recommend you go back and get it. Velvet #1 is a must read for anyone who wants something a bit different from your standard superhero fare, and is a comic that you should push to the top of your to-read pile. Awesome stuff.
One of the best ways to play the subversion card on the espionage/spy genre is to do a story with a female protagonist. This is a genre that is dominated by male characters, a legacy in part of the James Bond effect, and thus what female characters there usually are tend to be romantic interests with little agency beyond that, if any. They could even be rival spies and be as good as their male counterparts, but they still get reduce to their physical elements and are often sexualised in one way or another. And this is exactly what Velvet runs counter to.
Velvet Templeton, secretary to the Director of the British spy agency ARC-7, is the protagonist of this new creator-owned series by Brubaker and Epting, the collaborators behind the critically-acclaimed and fan favourite Captain America: Winter Soldier from Marvel. In this comic, Brubaker takes a traditional spy story but injects into it a lot of complexity and nuance, all of it fronted by Velvet as the titular heroine.
There’s a lot to be said for this comic because of that subversion card played by Brubaker and Epting. Velvet is a character who feels real and engaging because even though she operates in a male-dominated world, she has carved out her own niche and has made the best use of her skills, some of which we see straight up in the early pages, and some that come as a twist later on towards the end of the issue. She’s not your typical character by any means and she has a very strong agency that helps her stand out. She’s introspective and thoughtful in equal measure even through the heavy narration that Brubaker employs for this first, extra-sized first issue.
I’ve read the first volume of Brubaker/Epting’s Captain America and it is one of the best stories that I’ve read to date from Marvel. All the brilliance that these two brought to that series, they do so here as well. Right from the start, we get a lot to stick with the series, excellent characters, good pacing, good setting, good premise.
I really like Velvet’s character. She has a quiet strength about her that speaks to her character as someone who is patient and slips by under the radar but is ultimately a key player in events. And she is someone who is true to herself and her friends. We come back again and again to her agency as a character. She’s a take charge type when it comes to her and Epting brings that aspect of her character out really well throughout the issue, whether it is through her facial expressions or her body language or any of the other myriad hints. And the narration goes well in hand with that, as does the dialogue.
The pacing, like I said, is pretty good, but I think the issue is a bit too much of a slow-burner and that it could have used a slightly faster flow of events from one issue to another. Or if the issue had been stronger on the dialogue than the narration, that might have helped equally.
All that said, the art is quite good. Epting favours the issue with a strong noir feel that fits the story and genre extremely well. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colours add a completely different layer to the proceedings. Its in the colours that the story really comes together, thanks to the heavy dark and muted colour palette being used here. This is a story set in the early 1970s and so that’s another level where the art matches the story being told. The art is also another way in which Velvet’s character subverts the typical female character in espionage/spy stories. For one, she isn’t a visual beauty who is perfect. She has a lock of white hair in among her natural black. And she has a small mole just below her nose on her upper lip. The art makes it clear that there is no… perfectionism here.
I quite like this first issue, and I’m certainly looking forward to coming back next month for issue #2.