Velvet #2 is a Dark, Action-Driven Spy Thriller

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Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Publisher: Image Comics

Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting turned the  book starring the Star Spangled Avenger and (later) his sidekick Bucky Barnes into a full-time spy comic when they collaborated on Captain America, but they take things a step further in Velvet #2. They explore the dark underbelly of Cold War espionage in the vein of the Daniel Craig James Bond films if those films were period pieces. Brubaker crafts a complex female protagonist in Velvet Templeton, a secretary for the ARC-7 intelligence agency. His caption boxes reveal a witty, tactful character, who has experienced a lot of loss and death, but still manages to smile while evading gunfire from her own agents. And Epting’s art creates a plethora of rain-drenched, smoke wreathed locales for her to run, jump, and drive cars across. At times, Velvet #2 is the perfect spy book, but the supporting players are barely fleshed out compared to Velvet.

Without the constraints of a shared universe or continuity, Brubaker and Epting create their own world in the darkest corner of the Cold War. Velvet #2’s strongest areas are its suspense filled plot and sense of atmosphere. The first issue introduces us to Velvet Templeton, ARC-7, and sets up the murder mystery element of the story while this comic trades the paper work and mourning for action beats galore. There are gadgets, motorcycles, foot chases, car crashes, and hand to hand combat. (Not necessarily in this order.) Brubaker indulges in spy tropes, and Epting covers these familiar trappings in layers of shadow. The brightest color Elizabeth Breitweiser uses is light grey, and her muted color palette adds mystery and intrigue to Epting’s art and Brubaker’s plot. Epting shows various character’s ambiguous motivations by framing them in dark silhouette even in the day time. Epting also has the knack for choosing the right panel for the right time. For examples, he uses jagged panels for Velvet falling vertically out of a window and standard square ones for ARC-7’s conference about Velvet’s escape.

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But Velvet #2 isn’t just car chases and gunplay with some whodunit mystery action. Brubaker does an excellent job getting the reader into Velvet’s head via caption boxes and Sergeant Roberts’ dialogue about her escape. He reveals some back-story in a quick, visual appealing manner before probing into how Velvet handles herself in a crisis situation. Through this storytelling technique, Brubaker shows how spies (even retired ones) lose themselves in their work and the human cost of espionage. This theme extends to the underdeveloped members of ARC-7. The action/chase oriented main plot leaves little time for character development of the agency members. However, this is one small weakness in what is otherwise a smart, suspenseful spy comic from Brubaker, Epting, and Breitweiser.

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