There’s only so far you can go in an action-packed story before you have to stop and consider where all the character development is. A spy thriller like Velvet requires that the characters always be first and foremost but more than that, you also need some strong context of their histories and what all has happened to bring them to that point where you are becoming familiar with them. In the past four issues of Velvet, we’ve seen some tantalising glimpses of Velvet Templeton’s past as an agent of ARC-7, and all that has done has whet my appetite for more.
In Velvet #5, we see significant sections of Velvet’s past as we see how she was recruited by ARC-7 and what her training was like in those days. The entire story this time picks up straight from the cliffhanger from the previous issue and Brubaker just runs off with all of it, as he walks Velvet through a personal betrayer that still haunts her. Brubaker’s writing is just as fantastic and richly-layered as always even as the artwork by Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser still rocks. If you thought that the previous issues were good, then Velvet #5 will challenge that.
One of the things that has set apart this spy-thriller-mystery from others of its kind is that Ed Brubaker has really delved into Velvet Templeton’s psychology and what makes her tick. Time and time again we’ve seen how Brubaker teases out all the details about Velvet and how he builds her up into a really badass and even efficient character who doesn’t take no for an answer. She is investigating the death of an ARC-7 field agent and that search has led her to the secret that her husband Richard Donovan aka Mockingbird may have been a double agent after all.
In this issue, Ed Brubaker explores a very personal side of the hero and he shows some of her more tender and private moments, right up until she has to make a very dire and fateful choice that no doubt affects the rest of her life. And perhaps is even a cause for why she stopped being a field agent for ARC-7 in the first place. All the action of the previous issues is toned down in this issue to allow the readers to get a huge dose of character development and character exploration that does much to flesh out the Velvet Templeton of today, a woman racing against the clock to find the murderers of one of the best agents of her agency.
Seeing some of the events that have turned Velvet into the woman she is today proved to be quite refreshing. After all the glimpses and teases of the previous issue, Ed Brubaker goes all-out here and the whole noir-espionage-thriller feel is always present in the story. This also allows Velvet to provide some commentary on life as a spy, filled with secrets and deceit that make it difficult for one to recognise who is the real them. This can come off as some cliched stuff, given the genre, but Brubaker’s writing really makes it all work and never for a moment do you feel that you are being taken for a ride that you don’t want to take.
And in the midst of it all we see what it meant for Velvet to grow up in a man’s world and the case of hero-worship she developed for one of her instructors, someone who did things that mattered and who become a person who mattered to the people around her. That was the real kicker of the story.
Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser deliver some of their best artwork to date in this issue. This one isn’t as colourful or bright as the previous issue where we got to see the Carnival of Fools in all its glory, and is instead darker and more prone to the… shadows, thematically referencing the shades of grey of Brubaker’s story. Velvet is as amazing as ever in this issue and since we get to see her as a child as well in this issue, that adds an extra layer of awesome to the artwork. The story flows very smoothly from panel to panel and page to page.
In short, another great issue of this fantastic series from Image, definitely among their best titles by far.