Oh man, this series is good. I know that’s not very in-depth analysis, but it is just so good. With this issue, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting continue to develop the character of Velvet Templeton very nicely, let her engage in some more bad-assery, and also keep on deconstructing James Bond clichés in a way that doesn’t call too much attention to itself. There’s nothing more annoying than a story that is all ‘HEY LOOK, I’M DECONSTRUCTING STUFF!’, and Velvet is the exact opposite of that, hell, I’m not even sure if I’m not just reading way too much into things.
The issue begins with Velvet breaking into a prison for mysterious reasons, before flashing back to explain why she would do such a crazy thing. Burke has managed to get Velvet out of the UK and into Austria, and they are now trying to get to Yugoslavia by stealing a boat from a crimelord. Brubaker shows us, rather than tells us about Burke’s character when he just straight up shoots the boat’s guards. Once on the boat, Velvet’s narration explains why she’s going to Yugoslavia. To try and find out why she’s been framed, she’s tracing Agent X-14’s recent past, including a ‘missing day’ he had after sleeping with the wife of a Yugoslavian General for information. Velvet is going to sneak into a party and talk to this General’s wife, Marina. Only when she gets there, she’s not the woman on the General’s arm.
It turns out she’s been ‘erased’ and sent to a prison. This is where the Bond deconstruction comes in for me, as Marina is basically the secondary Bond girl that he fucks at the start of the film and then forgotten about. Here, she isn’t forgotten, and in fact, Bond/Keller’s indiscretions get her tortured and imprisoned. Just like how this story is making Miss Moneypenny into an actual character, it’s doing the same for the type of woman who would normally just get painted gold and dropped. The way Velvet finds out about Marina’s whereabouts is also a fun reversal of Bond tropes, as she sleeps with a young Communist Party official to gain access to his files. I’m sure some readers might have a problem with Velvet having sex to gain information, but I think it’s great. Male spies do this all the time and are seen as bad-ass, it’s only fair that Velvet is viewed the same way. But now that I’ve expressed an opinion on sex in comics, I’m sure it’ll turn out to be ‘problematic’ in some way and I’ll be castigated, it’s best just to avoid talking about it really.
So, Velvet now knows where Marina is, and this is why she’s breaking into that prison. She gets Marina out, who is psychologically scarred and missing an eye, and takes her to safety. Burke says she’s catatonic and of no use, but Marina says she’ll tell Velvet everything she wants to know about X-14’s missing day, if she lets her see her son one last time. Velvet reluctantly agrees to take her back to her apartment to see her son, but it’s a mistake. You see, Marina doesn’t have a son, and she actually wants to return home and kill her husband, the Yugoslav general. Velvet realises she’s been tricked right at the last second, but not in time to stop Marina from getting stabbed. She shoots the General, and now only has minutes to find out the information about X-14 she needs. Oh yes, she is pretty much fucked and the intrigue just gets deeper and darker.
The artwork from Epting was fantastic as usual here, his photo-realistic style works perfectly, and Betty Breitweiser’s colours are also a great fit for the dark tone. Plus, there’s some nudity! Now for that remark, I deserve to be castigated actually.