Move Over Bond, It’s… – Velvet Volume 1: Before the Living End

Velvet is the best Cold War thriller/James Bond comic book on the stands today.  True, she is no James Bond, but she might just be better.  Written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by his partner in crime, Steve Epting and colours by Elizabeth Breitweiser, it is one of the best new comics on the market today.  Unlike the glut of superhero comics that permeate the fabric of the four-colour world, this stands out in a genre that is not as well represented as it could be.  Being a spy thriller, it has all of the aspects of it like said spies and secret organizations and secret-agents, and it is packed full of action and drama as well.  It is a title that proves once again that a comic can be diverse and be on par with anything the Big Two put out and in fact, be better.  This is, without a doubt, better.

The book stars its namesake who works as a secretary for The Agency.  When one of their top agents is killed, Velvet decides to look into it as she has a personal stake in it all, that of a friend.  During the course of her investigation, she finds that she has been set up for the crime and must now go on the run.  Velvet is more than she seems though, more than just a simple secretary.  She is in fact one of the deadliest secret agents to have ever been employed at the Agency and when that truth comes to light, the rest of the company who thinks she has turned traitor, realize they might have their hands full.  And Velvet?  She is going to do what she has to do, to solve both mysteries – who killed the agent and who set her up.

This book features some of the best work that Steve Epting has ever put down on a page.  He has come a long way since his days on the Avengers in the 1990s and his work has even much improved from the time he spent on Captain America, a book in which he also shared duties with Ed Brubaker, his fellow creator who coincidentally also writes this book.  It is polished and slick, bright and deceiving when it needs to be, dark and treachorous when it is called for.  Epting’s pencils are seductive, forcing you to linger on every page and panel, admiring every line as they flow throughout the book.  The action scenes are elegant and beautiful which provides a stark contrast to the reality of the violence that is taking place.  Epting has become a master illustrator in the last two decades and it is a joy to see him draw a book as good as this.

In Velvet, Brubaker has once again created a lead character that is both compelling and dangerous.  It has proven to be a winning combination for the writer as everything he has worked on of late has featured these aspects and it continues here with Velvet.  Unlike Brubaker’s other current femme fatale at Image Comics, Josephine, Velvet is always in control, not just emotionally, but in every aspect of her life.  Like Josephine though, she is sultry, sexy and more trouble than anyone could possibly have imagined.  Every move she makes is planned and graceful, even when in battle and it is a testament to both the writer and artist for making her be as such.  The reader is also privy to her history which is shown thorughout the book, and to see the hardships she had to overcome, and still deals with, especially with the recent events bringing some of it to the forefront, you cannot help but root for her.  Velvet is a very real, very well-rounded character and kudos to Brubaker and his exceptional writing for making her so.

Reading this book you will find Brubaker’s writing to be taut, suspenseful and subtle.  His work on Captain America, Daredevil, Sleeper, Criminal, Pointe Blanke and Fatale have only prepared him for Velvet and every story leading up to this point has been worth it.  The book twists and turns with agent against agent and secrets hidden behind secrets.  Velvet happens to be both agent and secret, one that has been kept for many, many years.  As the book twists one way, the agents turn another and you never really know which direction Brubaker is going to go until he does it.  Setting this book in the 1950s through the 1970s is genius as the lack of technology and the reliance on oneself make for far more riveting tales.  This was the age of the super-spies, where life was a chess game and one wrong move could put you, your company or your country in the gravest of perils.

The second volume of this book cannot come fast enough.  Just like Fatale, this book grabs you and refuses to let go.  Everything about it is perfect from the colours, to the artwork to the way the book is paced out in its careful and intricate manner.  Brubaker excels at writing strong protagonists, those that seem almost impenetrable, but those that also have flaws just like everyone else.  Bringing Epting along for the ride was a smart move as he is turning in the best artwork of his career.  You can see the joy and the love these two have for this book and the best part is once you are finished reading, you just want to go back to the beginning and start again. This was a truly excellent book and it should be on everyone’s shelves if it is not already.

5 out of 5

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