High-gloss grit is the term that I invented when considering "Velvet" #2. It's a comic book that's at home in the high-end luxury world of secret agentry and the filthy underbelly of '70s action films like "The French Connection" and "The Long Goodbye."
Ed Brubaker is building another slow-burn mystery, this time surrounding Britain's top espionage agency. Pacing is a skill at which Burbaker excels, with this comic's being an interval sprint. We start slowly, in the aftermath of what we're about to read, then after another of the best-designed title pages in comics, he slams on the accelerator, putting us hip deep in the action as Velvet Templeton tries to escape the frame job in which she's embroiled so she can find out just who wants her dead and why. The verbiage of Velvet's inner monologue quickly shows us who she is - direct, clipped phrasing with a firm assessment of the moment that is just florid enough to make us want to know her more. The storytelling team gives us Velvet's history in a similar manner later in the story -- six wordless panels highlighting random moments from missions in her past. Habitual line steppers take note: you do not want to cross this woman.
Brubaker will be the first person to tell you about his love of '70s cinema and he's found another great partner in Steve Epting. Much like his work with Sean Philips and Michael Lark, once these two are freed of the constraints of creator-owned characters they expand their storytelling relationship in exciting, unbridled ways. Epting's linework has a fascinating balance in these pages: thick and black as onyx in one panel, thin and delicately glamorous the next. The climax of the action is as breathtaking and well choreographed as anything involving laser eyesight or gravitational mastery -- Velvet jumps from the damaged Mini Cooper she's driving on to the back of a passing motorbike, causing the Mini to skid out of control and destroy the car full of agents chasing her. It's a fantastic sequence gorgeously rendered and told economically in three panels. Through it all Velvet remains what a secret agent should be - dangerous, sexy, and the most interesting thing in the room.
Elizabeth Breitweiser contributes mood lighting that accentuates the action at every turn. The glow she creates around the car wreck makes disaster beautiful. She balances Velvet with stark but not severe coloring that makes her the only thing of true focus in a story of uncertainty. Look across Breitweiser's body of work and you can see that she is quickly gaining a sense of how to light scenes for maximum impact. Nothing feels flat and the tones always reflect the mood of the story.
After two great issues I'm really excited by the prospect of "Velvet." As someone who needs an editor to check my boneheadedness - thank you Steve Sunu - I'm even more impressed that there is none listed for this comic. Brubaker, Epting and Breitweiser are free to tell whatever story they so choose and and are handling that power with responsibility. Uncle Ben would be so proud!
"Velvet" is yet another in an incredible year of launches from Image Comics. I don't know where this story is headed but these storytellers seem as confident as Velvet Templeton that they'll figure it out and I'm happy to be along for the ride.