I grew up with James Bond films as my sole reference for the spy genre, and I considered him a cartoonish one at that, since he became the stuff of parody by the time the ’80s came along. It wouldn’t be until I was all grownup when I learned more of the history of the genre. And Ed Brubaker’s and Steve Epting’s Velvet, now compiled in a delicious deluxe hardcover, reads like a love letter to the spy genre’s golden era.
Set in the early ’70s, a British secret intelligence agency loses one of its key agents in an apparent ambush, which is not the sort of thing that should happen to someone with his training. Unless it was an inside job, which is what Velvet Templeton, the agency head’s secretary believes. And since she used to be a field agent herself in her younger days—one of the very best in the agency’s formative years at that—she takes it upon herself to start turning stones over to find out what really happened. But maybe she’s a bit rusty, because she’s caught a bit flat-footed when she gets framed for the hit and winds up with the entire agency hunting her down.
Through fifteen issues, each with its own pulse-pounding ending that compels you to devour the graphic novel whole, Velvet’s story is a parade of plot twists. Every hallmark of the genre is touched upon, from the fight scenes to the double crosses to the torrid love affairs, and all of it is captured on the page with Epting’s riveting art style as well as Elizabeth Breitweiser’s color scheme that uses shades of red and blue to great effect.
Outside of La Femme Nakita, I can’t think of a spy film featuring a female protagonist, but perhaps the literary side of the genre has more plentiful offerings. In any case, Velvet may feel novel in that regard, but doesn’t feel like some Mrs. Bond gimmick. She seems like the kind of character perfectly suited for the genre, kind of like her experimental stealth suit, without coming off as more superhero than super-spy. If you enjoy whip-smart plotting at a break-neck pace, Velvet is just what you need.