“What if Miss Moneypenny was actually more dangerous than James Bond and all of his colleagues together?”
Written by Ed Brubaker
Art by Steve Epting
What if Miss Moneypenny was actually more dangerous than James Bond and all of his colleagues together? That’s the premise of Velvet. This mysterious woman knows everything, yet the others in her secret spy agency look down on her as a simple secretary.
Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting have tried their best to make Captain America a cold war spy story in their Winter Soldier arc, and it was good, but now they have a real spy in their hands. Brubaker pitched the concept to Epting almost five years ago, so they had a lot of time to mature the idea. “What started out as this twist on spy archetypes turned into this epic story,” said the press release. Only three issues are out so far, and Velvet has a breathtaking start. It has mystery and action, and Velvet Templeton is a captivating protagonist.
In Brubaker’s words: “I’ve read a lot of spy novels, but I’ve never read one that had a female lead in the Cold War, kind of at the peak of the women’s liberation movement. I’d seen all the other stuff, and Black Widow was almost always more interesting than any character she was in a book with.”
Velvet is a superspy: capable of easily knocking out five armed men with her bare hands, memorizing any data she sees, and flying out of a 30th floor window with her gadgets. One may think otherwise, but it is a highly believable story. Brubaker makes sure every detail is in the right place, creating a credible world with its own rules, immersing the reader in a 1970’s scenario that still feels very plausible.
The protagonist is in her late forties, and, most amazing, she really looks like it. And she is sexy. Epting has my applause. She is smart and strong, but also filthy and immoral, and I like my spies that way, please. Eventually, she will use sex to get what she wants, but not as a sex machine men can’t resist–she does it because she does not care if it isn’t “right”. And hey, hasn’t James Bond done this a million times?
In the third issue, the authors once again subverted a spy story cliché: what happens to the Bond Girls after Mr. Bond leaves to receive his medals of honor? Usually, we never get to see their stories. But what if they are in danger? What if they are tortured, murdered? After all, they gave important information to a foreign spy and are surrounded by very powerful people. Doesn’t the spy hero care for them? Fortunately, Velvet is not your regular spy. She cares. In this issue she helps the wife of a powerful man who was seduced by a spy to reveal some secrets. I liked seeing it, because in other spy novels the reader would not even know about it. It’s often as if these women cease to exist in the absence of the male protagonist, and, therefore, their suffering is not important. Velvet may be far from a heroine, but she is supportive of other women and of other people’s feelings in general. So even if she murders a bad guy sometimes, she is still very likeable.
Most of the time, the panels are simple rectangles, only broken to highlight a figure that goes “out” of it. In the climax of the action, they get a little more fluid, with angled lines. And, sometimes, circular panels are used to show us what Velvet is thinking in her superspy mind: special information, maps, or insights. This classic composition is very well suited to a story that has to look “classic”. Bettie Breitweiser’s colors are the cherry on top, dark and bloody, looking a bit realistic combined with Epting’s lines, but still with a vintage graphicness. The final result screams “spy story” on every page.
In the first issue, during the climactic action scene, one panel is entirely black. It’s a trick that works a lot in comics, and I love it. It’s a blink of an eye. In one panel Velvet is still, and then BLINK, next thing you know she is breaking your nose. That’s smart action composition.
Regarding the plot development, the murder mystery is unfolding slowly. There is a lot of minor information that a distracted reader could pass by, and I can personally say that a second reading has revealed a lot more to me. I like mysteries that invite the reader to solve them, giving hints along the way, instead of a bombastic revelation in the final issue that almost always feels fake. You feel cheated. It may be early to say, but Velvet is going in that wiser direction, and I trust Brubaker not to underestimate his readership. As it is now, Velvet is fated to a long run and has the potential to be a well-constructed story from the first to the last page.