After a break in February, Image Comics’ Velvet returned to stores a couple weeks with its fourth issue, which continues the story of former ARC-7 field agent Velvet Templeton as she tracks down how and why one of the agency’s best agents was murdered. Ed Brubaker’s characterisaton has been one of the highlights of the series since its debut last year, plus the great visuals conjured by Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser, which made this one of my favourite new series in 2013. The whole espionage thriller feel has definitely kept me interested and coming back month after month.
In the new issue, Velvet hunts down another lead into the mystery of why X-14 was murdered, this time as part of a massive festival in Monaco, a festival that is quite reflective of the espionage and intelligence community. The formula is starting to feel a bit tired, but I won’t deny that Brubaker’s plot and dialogue are still on good form and there’s a great revelation at the end of the issue. And the art team goes full-on crazy in this issue, making it one of the best so far.
In the last issue, we saw that despite being one of ARC-7s best agents, Velvet’s skills have atrophied in the years that she has spent as Secretary to the agency’s chief. Namely, she’s lost her emotional distance to a mission, and this comes back to bite her at the end of the issue, making her time in Belgrade a disaster, even though she got some information. But now ARC-7 is back on the hunt for their rogue agent, and time is running out for Velvet.
In the new issue, we see her come face-to-face with one of her old rivals, a KGB agent who has since retired and gone rogue himself. The story in this issue has all the hallmarks of a typical spy thriller, and this is Brubaker’s forte, so the execution of the entire story is pretty darn good. Like I said, the formula is getting repetitive now, but we still appear to be in the setup phase so perhaps it can all be forgiven. What matters nonetheless is that Brubaker has mixing thriller with action very well in the entire run so far and the new issue is no exception. Velvet shows off her combat chops once again to great effect, and those pages were some of the most intensely fun of the entire issue.
My complaints about her supporting cast not being all that memorable or effective remain however. Whether we talk her bosses at ARC-7 or the characters we’ve seen so far as she rips through Europe, they don’t really stand out. The former Russian agent in this issue, Roman, does come close to standing out, and the ending of the issue is very promising. With him, Brubaker gives Velvet a long shared history of agents who once worked against each other, but at the crossroads they now find themselves at, they are friends so to speak. And Roman himself proves to be quite a fascinating character, so I’m hopeful on that front. If we features a bit more in the series, then some of my concerns about the supporting cast will definitely be addressed.
Unlike the previous issue however, the plot here doesn’t move as quickly, which is good. The story takes the proper amount of time to develop and then hit you with the big reveal at the end. The mysteries that are being developed with respect to the story and with respect to Velvet herself, I find them to be well worth the price of admission. Again and again with each issue Brubaker proves why he is so good at writing these noir-inspired modern espionage thriller stories, and that’s really it.
Steve Epting returns for pencils in this issue with co-conspirators Elizabeth Breitweiser on colours and Chris Eliopoulos on letters. I remarked up top that the artwork here was fantastic, and that is certainly true. This issue is a riot of colours given that the festival being celebrated in Monaco is the Carnival of Foots where people dress up and wear masks, so the art team’s imagination runs wild here. And Velvet herself is portrayed quite beautifully, and in spite of all the finery, Epting and Breitweiser let Velvet give a great account of herself in a close-up fight.
Excellent, excellent stuff.