Velvet #1: Ed Brubaker Is Too Damn Good


Ed Brubaker is so good it can be enraging. Let’s just call it what it is – Ed Brubaker is among the top five writers in all of comics. He elevates everything he touches into the realm of literature. Take his new work, Velvet – a supremely entertaining and wonderfully written story set in the world of early seventies espionage. Brubaker loves him some pulp spy novels and hard-boiled crime fiction, and Velvet is nut-crushing blast of both.

Like all good spy stories, Brubaker begins it with an assassination. One of the X-Operatives, a line of spies that could show James Bond the door, has been assassinated. Naturally, those who handle these spies fly into a tizzy. There was a set up! A mole is in the department and heads are going to roll. As the investigation deepens, it soon become apparent that this is much worse than anyone in the agency thought.

The thread through all of this is Velvet Templeton, who begins the story as the secretary for the Director of Arc-7 in London, the agency that deals with the X-Operatives. She is the heroine of the piece, and Brubaker wraps the story around her. As a new piece of the puzzle becomes clear, he allows a small morsel of Velvet’s background be exposed. There is so much more going on with her than we think, and Brubaker builds that tension in layers.

First, Velvet is just a secretary. Then she’s one who has had affairs with multiple X-Operatives and managed to keep top trained assassins fooled into believing that they were the only ones in her life. There’s her photographic memory and her history with the agency that seems cloaked in darkness. Through flashbacks and inner monologue, Brubaker allows Velvet’s story to slowly unfold. So much so that the ending cliffhanger is supercharged with excitement.

Brubaker’s writing is the key to all of this. His ability to pace a book, to keep secrets and then allow them to leak out instead of hit you over the head. Velvet is also written as a strong character without the usual trappings of a female lead. She’s attractive yes, but drawn by Steve Epting in a realistic way, with curves and muscle. Velvet isn’t afraid to use sex or to be open to enjoying multiple partners. Her attitude completely cements that she would survive and thrive in the testosterone world of spies. It also makes the end scenes actually believable.

Back to Steve Epting. Once again, the man proves why he is the master of his craft. Nobody pencils dark, noir stories the way he does. His use of shading, the way he crafts each character, they feel like they exist in shadows. Epting also conveys movement in every panel. From something as big as a gunfight to as small as Velvet moving in the shower. There is a cinematic scope to what Epting does and it matches Brubaker’s work perfectly. Kudos also need to be said for colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. She brings out the best of Epting’s pencils.

Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are one of the most important teams in comic book history. Velvet is a book that would bring smiles to the faces of Dashiell Hammett, Ian Fleming and John le Carre.