Velvet’s fifth issue caps off the first arc, Before the Living End, by slowing down the action and espionage to deliver us some insight into Velvet Templeton’s past (which is filled with only slightly less action and espionage). And slow doesn’t necessarily mean bad here. Far from it. From the end of first issue, Velvet’s been sprinting, sneaking, and shooting her way across what seems like half a dozen countries all over the world. And while all that hullaballoo was extremely entertaining, it feels good to ease off the throttle for a moment and finally get into the nitty-gritty of what makes our heroine the steely badass she is today.
This issue recounts two major events in Velvet’s life: her tutelage under her first training officer and idol, Lady Pauline, and her tragic honeymoon which ends with Velvet shoving her husband through their hotel window to his death (tough break there, V). We get small glimpses at each, but it’s just enough to offer a satisfying explanation of where Velvet and her motivation going forward come from.
One of my favorite things about this series is that while it still maintains a fun atmosphere typical of classic James Bond-style spy movies, it adds an element of realism that really raises the stakes. In fact, an entire page is devoted to breaking down the reverence that Velvet holds for her old mentor. Lady Pauline was an amazing woman: a hard drinking, hard smoking, tough ol’ broad with who lied, shot and skied (you heard right, skied) her way through World War II and went on to train the next generation of superspies. But the things she’d seen and done during war time affected her in ways Velvet had originally overlooked. She drank heavily to keep her mind from wandering and she always had a cigarette in her hand to keep it from shaking. Even her death, a stabbing by a slighted lover, was rather inglorious.
This realism is shown best when Velvet must defend herself against her husband Richard. There are no high-flying back flips or overblown kung fu maneuvers. It’s a tight, close-quarters fight, and every hit and grapple is viscerally felt. Special props to artist Steve Epting. He’s made this book something special from the beginning but really shines in this sequence. The dialogue here is given its own panels, with stark white text on black backgrounds where Velvet remembers little moments of happiness and warmth she’s enjoyed with her husband as they kill each other, the violence portrayed in-between in brief, shadowed snapshots.
…well, that got dark there for a second. But despite the tragedy of this issue, Velvet is still a great spy adventure from Epting and Ed Brubaker, the latter of which has been writing and perfecting this cloak-and-dagger type of story for like a decade. If that sounds even remotely like your cup of tea, give this book a try. This is another winner from Image.