Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting continue their gorgeous period spy adventures of Velvet, as she attempts to unravel the conspiracy that has compromised her and put her on the run, in "Velvet" #4.
Brubaker has a strong and capable voice for Velvet and she's an engaging character even for those that might not love books heavy on narration. Additionally, Brubaker has found some nice tricks that -- in concert with Epting's clever visuals -- make Velvet's internal process all the more interesting. I hope both Brubaker and Epting can continue coming up with such enjoyable and yet organic devices for the series, as they lend the book -- and Velvet -- some very cool layers. Also in this issue, there's a frank and refreshing narrative bit about fights, and though it doesn't have any cool visual tricks beyond just being a wonderfully rendered fight sequence, it's the kind of strong writing that stays with you.
Unfortunately in this installment, the plot does suffer a bit from too much tell and not enough show. Large plot elements and some back-story are divulged almost entirely through exposition. Most notably the "shocking ending" falls flat as it hasn't been set up in way that has maximum emotional resonance. The pertinent information is delivered almost matter-of-factly by an informant in the midst of a larger conversation and as a result, readers don't fully understand its impact on anyone involved, even Velvet.
Still, even in an issue where the writing and plotting doesn't work quite as well they previously have, "Velvet" is easily one of the most beautiful books on stands, which goes a long way in making up for any momentary weaknesses. Epting's work is masterful. His Velvet is both a force to be reckoned with and yet effortlessly human. Epting works in an extremely realistic style, which is a perfect fit for the book's tone. It bears repeating that Epting's Velvet is one of very few women, even among some of the best artists working in comics, that feels realistic. Although she's beautiful, deadly and a badass spy, she's also not twenty-two years old and drawn as a cartoonish Jessica Rabbit type. She has real weight to her and her face is that of a woman that has actually lived. It's shockingly rare for women in comics to be portrayed this way, and thus, it's kind of awesome to behold.
But even Epting's magnificent Velvet is outshined a bit in this issue by an almost full-page panel of the Carnival of Fools, which (thanks to Elizabeth Breitweiser's glorious colors) feels appropriately like something right out of a dream. In fact, Breitweiser's colors are sublime throughout, shifting effortlessly from blue tones to golds, as the light demands, and coming alive especially in how beautifully she renders exterior lights -- a distant city on the shore, hotels piled up on a beach at night -- it's gorgeous stuff.
Four issues in, it's Brubaker, Epting and Velvet that prove a force to be reckoned with. Despite a large number of strong books with female leads and A-list creative talent on stands right now, "Velvet" continues to hold its own as one of the best.