If I were tasked to name the best writer/artist tandem in comics today, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting would top the short list. As made evident by their brilliant run on Captain America, the duo just gets comics, consistently delivering the one-two punch of incredible scripting and amazing art. Luckily for us, the fates have deigned to bring them together once more in the form of Velvet, a terse, high action spy thriller that puts another notch in Image Comics’ recent win column.
Velvet is the story of one Velvet Templeton, acting secretary to the director of Arc-7, a spy organization so secret that secret societies don’t even know they exist. Velvet manages her role running the Director’s office from behind a desk, but soon the murder of a top black ops agent (of which she had a personal relationship) has her out in the field doing some investigating of her own. As her superiors work to track down the killer, Velvet uses her own substantial resources and know how to work her own leads, eventually stumbling onto a conspiracy that catches her smack dab in the middle. It’s a sticky situation, but Miss Templeton may be more capable (and more dangerous) than originally thought.
From the opening prologue Brubaker’s script pulls you deep into the dark, mistrustful world of intelligence ops. The writer delivers a masterclass in plotting here, as every word, panel, and scene is meticulously placed. Usually a debut needs a few pages (or issues) to really find its stride, but Velvet is the rare book that hits the ground running and never lets up. In fact, this may be one of the best #1’s I’ve read in quite some time. Brubaker has always shown an ability to write gripping spy fiction, but Velvet is almost on another level. The reason for that comes down to Velvet herself; she’s smart, savvy, and above all capable, possessing an assuredness that gives depth beyond her role as personal secretary. There’s a power about her, as if she commands your respect and deserves your attention. By issue’s end it’s safe to say that she has plenty of both.
All that being said, Brubaker isn’t the only incredible storyteller at work here. Steve Epting delivers some of his finest work to date, bringing the script’s tension and grit to impossibly realistic life. If you’ve been reading my reviews you’ve likely noticed that one thing I harp on is the continued use of “dead space,” where a background is devoid of any detail. There is NO dead space in Velvet. None. Epting has crafted such a fully realized world that I felt like I could hop into the comic at any given moment and interact with those in the scene. His attention to detail is frankly ridiculous; coats adorn coat racks, washcloths are rolled at the end of bathtubs, boxes and books rest in haphazard stacks. Epting’s world is so real that at times it’s easy to forget you’re reading a comic. Instead, you’re living one.
I’d also be remiss not to mention the exceptional color work provided by Elizabeth Breitweiser. Her work gives an added atmosphere to the book, as her deep shadows, muted colors, and harsh lighting only serve to enhance the tension throughout. In terms of comic appreciation I’m more of a “word guy,” yet I found myself poring over Epting and Breitweiser’s pages long after the issue was done.
If there is such a thing as a perfect comic, it’d be hard not to argue that Velvet is one. Brubaker and Epting show yet again why they’re two of the best in the business, crafting a terse, exhilarating debut that seems to get better with every page. As a reviewer I realize that the term “must buy” is likely too often floated, but Velvet is just that good. Don’t miss it.