Velvet is Image’s newest no. 1 to pop up in as many weeks, and it’s significant because it’s the first time Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting have teamed up since they were both spinning their Captain America epic for Marvel a few years ago. Brubaker finished off that run relatively strong, but it’s great to see him on a book with the same themes and tone from his Captain America run, which is likely to have less editorial interference. This time around, Marvel pretty much gave Brubaker free reign to do whatever he wanted with the book, but every once in a while he’d be forced to tie his Captain America book into one of Marvel’s larger event books. This is simply because Cap was so popular that he couldn’t not be a part of those things. Velvet is creator-owned, so he and Epting are going to be left completely alone to tell whatever espionage epic they wish, and based off of what happens in the first issue alone, that should be good news for everyone.
The book starts off in Paris during 1973, where Jefferson Keller, a 60s-era Connery Bond analogue is outed and gunned down after he completes an assassination. The X-Ops in this book are basically 00 (double zero) agents, or any other bad ass collection of suave, hard-drinking hit men that have been featured in dozens of other works of fiction. What’s so intriguing about the book’s premise is that right after we see Keller gunned down, the point-of-view switches to Velvet Templeton, the X-Operative director’s secretary. We’re slowly teased through the issue’s last page that Velvet may not be just another secretary hired as obvious window-dressing. She begins to look into what happened to Keller, and through brief flashbacks, we see that she’s been in the world of espionage far longer than Keller had been, and maybe even longer than her boss. Brubaker basically takes the Bond movies’ archetypes for Bond and Miss Moneypenny and flips them on their heads. In Velvet, the Bonds are the disposable toys, and Moneypenny, or Velvet, is the invaluable agency asset that’s far more lethal and disturbing than any male’s ever been in the role. It’s a great dynamic, and it helps set something that could have been just another spy fairy tale apart from the rest of the genre.
Steve Epting is in rare form here. Getting to fully embrace the shadows and grit that made his Captain America work so admirable, without having to deal with the forced four-color world of superhero comics. His Cap stuff was tremendous, but the darkness of the world Brubaker lets him play in here automatically raises the standard of his work. His design for Velvet is fantastic too, highlighting her age with a single white streak in a mane of jet-black hair, while still breathing grace into everything she does through purposeful body language. There’s a couple of panels in the middle of the issue where she’s working out that would’ve been cheesecake fodder for almost any other artist in comics, but Epting holds back and instead it feels viciously powerful and elegant. In other words, it feels like you’re following the story of a person, not just talking cleavage and lace.
For a first issue, Brubaker and Epting drop a lot on your plate, and Velvet #1 is something that you can read a couple of times and still find more to enjoy each time. For as much as they give you in this issue, it’s important to remember that, yes, this still is a first issue. It’s the first part of a story that’s sure to have plenty more twists and turns.
More importantly though, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting are putting out a 70s-era spy book. Just go buy it already. Velvet can be purchased for $2.99 on Comixology.com or in local retail shops.