by Ed Brubaker (Writer), Steve Epting (Artist), Elizabeth Breitweiser (Colorist)
The Story: One of the top agents of Arc-7 gets killed during a mission. Thankfully, Velvet Templeton is on the case…
The Review: There are a lot of reasons to love Image comics right now. With so many high-profile creators making the jump to non-superhero work with their own characters and concepts, it’s a pretty great thing to behold. With Brian K. Vaughan on Saga, Matt Fraction on Sex Criminals and Satellite Sam, Greg Rucka on Lazarus and so on, it’s like a golden age of creator-owned comics.
Ed Brubaker, while already on track with his own Fatale, is getting even further along as he releases another one this week with Velvet. With his first Image series playing a bit with noir along with horror, this one deals with another type of stories that Brubaker is at ease with: espionage. With Steve Epting, his Captain America collaborator who brought Bucky back to life with Brubaker working with him, this seems like a dream come true for those who grew to appreciate the writers through the Winter Soldier storyline. However, do these two bring out the same amount of quality in this issue as they did in past comics?
Thankfully, they do, as this first issue show a great amount of confidence in both the style and world-building brought forth by Brubaker and the art of Epting. Already setting a conflict right in the very beginning of the issue as well as the tone, Brubaker does not lose a single moment in his script to get most of the series rolling. Doing this, he provides a basis for the characters and a world for them to develop in. It may not be the most original of settings, yet there are a lot of ways in which this first issue does its job really well.
The first of all is the tone, which is set through the characters and the narration. While Brubaker is usually quite in love with the use of inner voices to propel the characterization and plot forward, his use of them here is as apt as they usually are. Using either ironic humor or sharp comparisons to highlight some of the more somber and perhaps normal points of how a spy agency could work, Brubaker manages to cling on to a certain realistic view without destroying the mythos and the surreal elements of spy fiction. With the main point-of-view done with Velvet’s own voice, this issue rapidly establish itself through a certain sensation of fun, yet not to the detriment of the general uncertainty and the shadows of the spy genre. Velvet, as a character, works pretty well as a lead.
The story in itself, surprisingly, goes really fast as a lot of the world, the conflict and the problems associated with it are present in the first issue, with Brubaker going rather quickly through it all. It is by no mean decompressed, as while we learn more about Arc-7, Velvet and the general spy game, we also learn a bit more about the subtleties and the shadow play that accompanies the events connected to the very beginning of this issue. If the point was to make the readers invested in the intrigue and the character, then Brubaker nailed it quite well.
As good as the script is, any comic need to have an artist that can actually pay justice to the strengths of all these elements, which is thankfully what Steve Epting is able to do here. The moody panels are all able to convey a certain sense of mystery and dread thanks to his heavy use of shadows, the seriousness of it all clashing a bit with some of the narration to great effect. The backgrounds, along with the sense of depth, are truly well-done, adding to the general ambience of each panels, which is something that Epting is really able to put to the forefront in here. This ambience is also shared with the characters, as their expressions are minimal in their faces, with close to no exaggeration brought forth in order to sell the readers on their veracity.
The ambience and general spy themes are also brought forth by Elizabeth Breitweiser, who channels a bit of Steranko’s own work in order to provide some great colorization to the art of Steve Epting. Playing a lot with intense contrasts of warm and cold within the panels, like with dark characters in a shiny and bright background, Breitweiser is able to bring forth the disparity between what things look on the surface and how it really is, which is one of the finer points of spy as characters and as a genre in general. In other parts of the book, she use an abundance of dark with a very minimal touch of lighter and clearer colors to push the idea even further, which is truly befitting of the book and its style in general.
The Conclusion: Providing a good voice for its characters and its themes through a solid story and a good artistic direction, the first issue of Velvet by Brubaker, Epting and Breitweiser is a great example on how to write an exciting first issue.
-Hugo Robberts Larivière