‘Sup readers? Welcome to this week’s On The Shelf, the column where I (subjectively) let you know which newly-released literature (in various formats. This column isn’t shy about veering away from traditional publishing) is good enough to be slipped, spine-out, onto your shelf, and which should be e-reader purchases.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Ed Brubaker’s work; I’ve recommended The Fade Out enthusiastically, and I’ve yet to read a Captain America run that rivals his turn on the book with artist Steve Epting. When I heard Brubaker and Epting had an Image-backed spy thriller being released as a deluxe edition, I pre-ordered without thinking twice.
Velvet isn’t quite the spy thriller I was expecting, but it was the dark, espionage drama I needed. Velvet Templeton is the secretary for the director of ARC-7, a clandestine spy organization in London. Sleek and smart-mouthed, the 43-year-old is a great secretary— but an even better spy. Staying behind her desk is a choice, made after a horrific, life-ruining event that nearly drove her insane. But when ARC-7’s top spy, X-14, is murdered on a mission, Velvet can’t help looking into his death. ARC-7 believes the murderer is a retired agent gone rogue, but when Velvet confronts the prime suspect, she finds him dead— and she’s been framed for his murder. What follows is a globe-trotting, high stakes adventure as Velvet evades ARC-7’s custody, on the hunt for X-14’s real killer. Why was he killed? Who framed her? Soon, Velvet stumbles into a conspiracy of corruption, one that has heart-wrenching answers about her past.
Velvet is a standout read for many reasons, just some of which are its phenomenal art (the Festival of Fools is beyond beautiful) and colouring.
Not only is Velvet a lethal woman in 1973 who can and often does outmatch the men who continuously underestimate her, she’s also resourceful enough to fool her agency several times.
The pacing is a strange form of exquisite; there is a plethora of kick-butt action sequences (ranging from gun-happy to explosive to CQB) but the overall mystery plods along at a slower pace, unfolding in-between flashbacks of Velvet’s youth, and scrambled present-day moments with the agents tasked to catch her. This could have been a turn-off. Bouncing back and forth from exotic locale to exotic locale, torn between past and present in a matter of pages doesn’t always translate well. In the wrong hands, it can leave a reader spinning, unsure of which piece of the narrative goes where, but luckily, Brubaker is a seasoned pro. Nothing about Velvet will leave you shell-shocked, if only because the book is shell-shock in and of itself. Velvet trusts no one, anyone could be her enemy, and so finding out which people are on her side of the chessboard versus not is less of a gut-wrenching betrayal and more of a “Yeah, well, she didn’t trust you anyway.”
I think my favourite aspect of Velvet is the humanity. Spies are expected to be cold and cutthroat and all-business, but underneath the smooth veneer, they are very much human, and all the pieces of them that break off stay broken. The spy is the external mask who smiles through tragedy, but the person underneath is the one dealing with the aftermath.
I can absolutely say that Velvet deserves a place on the shelf, even if you’re not big into spy thrillers. You can buy the deluxe edition here. If you would rather buy the individual volumes: one, two, three.