VELVET by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting

Image Comics
October 2013

Sit back for a moment and think about this “What If” scenario: WHAT IF… Miss Moneypenny, instead of being happily deskbound, was actually out in the field, knee-deep in cloak and dagger intrigue? This simple exercise in role-reversal is the premise behind the brilliant VELVET.
For those in the know, the name Ed Brubaker is as close to a sure thing as it gets when it comes to quality comics. Pick your flavor: His CAPTAIN AMERICA run is so well regarded that it is the blueprint for the soon-to-be-released film CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDER. His monthly creator owned books with Sean Phillips: SLEEPER, CRIMINAL, and FATAL continually reach new heights in crime fiction and horror. And now we have his newest creator-owned offering with VELVET.

In “Before the Living End” we meet our heroine, Velvet Templeton. Velvet is an executive assistant for the covert agency known as ARC-7. When Velvet is awaken by a ringing phone at 4:00 AM, she knows it can’t be for good news. It is in fact the worst kind of news: Jefferson Keller, known as X-Operative 14, has been murdered. As Velvet looks into a lead in the murder case, things quickly get out of hand. And this is where our story really kicks into gear.
VELVET is a Cold War story, taking place in Europe in 1973. Flashbacks to New York in 1968 show us how Velvet and Keller first met, and how their romance first sparked over a bottle of Rothschild, “Mary Jane that was lifted off that hippie waiter”, and a supped-up spy mobile disguised as a Ford Mustang.

While Velvet admits to herself that there were many romances with many Agents, Keller was different. He “Made me remember the old days… which in itself wasn’t too difficult… but Jefferson made me smile when I thought of them. And that was a rare thing.”

The dialog and the narration are mixes for a potent Cold War blend. But it truly becomes something special when paired with the pencils of Steve Epting. I first became aware of Epting’s work in the ‘90’s on Marvel’s THE AVENGERS. Even back then, it was clear this guy had chops. In 2004, he paired with Brubaker for what many consider the definitive run on Captain America. The Brubaker/Epting run tempered the super-hero elements with heavy doses of espionage action with SHIELD playing an expanded role in the book, the resurrection and transformation of Cap’s WWII partner Bucky into the Winter Solder, and the assassination (and eventual resurrection) of Captain America himself.

In VELVET, Epting’s art is paired with the colors of Elizabeth Breitweiser. While the colorist oftentimes may not get a lot of attention, here it’s almost impossible not to notice. Epting’s art is some of the most realistic work I’ve ever seen. While Alex Ross usually (and deservedly) gets this praise, his layouts and perspectives can sometimes be distracting. Epting’s work is so fluid and natural; you don’t even know you’re reading a comic. Add in his reference work (the cars, weapons, etc.) and this becomes a movie told in still form. Breitweiser contributes mood and emotion with her colors. The double page spread/title page is a thing of beauty I’ve gone back to at least ten times now.

A very cool feature in Brubaker’s creator-owned books, are the guest essays at the back of most issues. Here we have a fantastic essay by scholar Jess Nevins. “The History of Spy Fiction Through the Cold War” is required reading.

Thank you, Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Elizabeth Breitweiser. VELVET is the spy book that I didn’t know I was missing, but now I can’t live without.

Dan Malmon