The second Image #1 this week, and unlike Pretty Deadly, I really felt that this one lived up the hype. Like most other right-minded human beings, I loved Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s espionage-tilted take on Captain America, and it’s fantastic to see them do something with that same feeling and tone, but without those pesky superhero trappings. The elevator pitch here is basically ‘What if Miss Moneypenny was secretly even more bad-ass than James Bond?’ and even though they already made Moneypenny pretty bad-ass in Skyfall, Velvet Templeton has her beat I think.
Set in 1973, Velvet Templeton is the secretary to the Director of ARC-7, a spy organization so top-secret, even other spy agencies don’t know they exist. After Jefferson Keller, Agent X-14 is murdered on a mission, the agency is sent into chaos, and when a former agent, Frank Lancaster (X-02) is believed to be behind it, Velvet Templeton thinks something is fishy. I liked how almost all of the agents at ARC-7 seemed to be white men with dark hair, sort of indicating that they are all James Bond homages, just different Bonds, and perhaps referencing the somewhat common theory that Bond is not a person, but a codename.
The tone of this book seems to be sort of halfway between the dark, depressing reality of John Le Carre spy novels, and the more action-packed, sexy James Bond stories, and Brubaker pulls it off really well. Brubaker also packs in plenty of interesting character details about Velvet, with a few intriguing flashbacks and a teasing central mystery about just how and why she was given the position of secretary, when as we see in this issue, she’s a more than competent field agent. There’s also a mystery about the present to deal with, as, due to her misgivings over the guilt of Frank Lancaster, Velvet visits one of his former safe-houses, where she discovers his corpse, and also that she herself has been set up. Another white dude with dark hair (Roberts) appears, and accuses her of being a traitor. However, because he thinks she’s just a secretary, Velvet is able to kick the butt of not only him, but also his men, and go smashing out the window.
So not only do we have the mysteries of Velvet Templeton’s past, but we also have the question of who is framing her, and how far does the conspiracy go? This was just a perfect first issue, the characters are already interesting (it does help that they are somewhat archetypical, but Brubaker is already moving past the Bond comparisons I feel, I’ve probably over-done it here myself), there’s plenty of action, and most of all, the world of spies in 1970s Britain feels fully realized. We’ve seen Brubaker write stories set in the past before, on Fatale, on The Marvels Project, and he really nails a sense of time and place like few other writers can.
Steve Epting’s art is also fantastic, he brings the same slick, but dark feel to this as he did to Captain America, and the facial expressions he gives to Velvet have gone a long way to building her as a character in a short space of time, especially in that flashback where she and Keller smoke a joint.
If you’re a fan of Brubaker’s Captain America, you need to check this out, if you like spy novels and movies, you need to check it out, and hey, if you liked the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier that came out this week, you should buy this book, it’s the same people who came up with that story, but darker, more in the real world, and with a bad-ass chick. There’s even a Jess Nevins article, what’s not to like?