“Try Something New.” That challenge is the whole reason for this feature’s existence. Month in and month out we buy the comics we know and love, the ones we look forward to every time but there are countless series that travel under our radar, ones that we just don’t give a chance and get passed by. That’s why I made a vow: every week I’d pick up an issue for a series that wasn’t on my pull-list in the hopes of finding a hidden gem. Welcome to Off The Shelf where we’ll discover if my leap of faith paid dividends this week. Also, I should mention that there be SPOILERS in this review. You are warned! Lastly, this edition of Off The Shelf marks a first: it is done by someone other than me. As part of my new initiative of opening up the doors to this site, we are treated to our very first guest feature.
Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting
Prior Experience With Title
None, this is a new series featuring all new characters.
Why Did I Give It A Shot?
I saw a positive review on IGN and I was looking for a brand new series to read. I later learned that Brubaker and Epting are the same creative pair behind the critically acclaimed Captain America: The Winter Soldier comic book saga which the 2014 Marvel movie is inspired from.
Velvet is a spy fiction comic series. It’s a murder mystery and a thriller with a noir feel. Set in Paris 1973, the issue begins with Jefferson Keller, code named X-14, an elite spy from a highly covert organization called Arc-7. While on a mission, Keller recounts the time he and other operatives went out drinking and started telling crass stories. It turns out that each of them thought they were the only one to have a secret thing with the Director’s secretary. The most highly trained spies and killers in the world got duped by the same woman. Keller believes this makes secretary Velvet Templeton dangerous and that she’s very skilled at hiding who she really is. After completing the mission, Keller makes his way to a getaway car but is gunned down by an unseen assassin.
At 4 am, Velvet wakes up to a phone call from Director Manning notifying her that Keller was killed in action. Velvet is a middle-aged woman with her defining physical features being a streak of white shoulder length hair and a Cindy Crawford type beauty mark above her lip. She fondly remembers Keller because he could make her smile about the old days which is a rare thing.
At a briefing in Arc-7’s London headquarters, the team speculates that Keller was likely ambushed due to a compromised exit route. After the meeting, Velvet wonders how Keller could have walked into a trap considering Arc-7 agents are the very best. Arc-7 is virtually unknown in the intelligence community and if they are heard of it’s as a legend: “a secret remnant from an allied espionage group from World War II.”
Flashing back to New York 1968, Velvet is at a swanky party looking out on a balcony of a tall building. Keller asks if she’d rather be alone but she smiles and says she’s looking for a good spot to smoke a joint. Keller says he has a spot and they go in his sports car, speeding down the streets of New York which prompts the police to give chase.
Back in present day 1973, Sgt. Roberts (a tough talking military man with a mean scowl) is running an internal investigation to determine if Arc-7 has a mole. Meanwhile, Velvet does some investigating of her own. She requests all of Keller’s non-redacted reports from the last year. Using her nearly photographic memory, Velvet recalls that Keller’s previous monthly expense report has a missing day which she didn’t think much of at the time but will likely prove to be important.
Director Manning then calls Velvet into the conference room because they have uncovered who killed Jefferson Keller. The killer is a retired spy named Frank Lancaster who left the city hours after the shooting, haven withdrawn all his money from his bank account as well. Velvet says that Lancaster is no traitor but Manning insists that the man was an angry, bitter drunk and was no saint to begin with.
Velvet doesn’t easily let things go which is a trait that gets her into trouble. She also doesn’t trust Sgt. Roberts’ ability to separate fact from fiction because facts can be made to say whatever you want them to say. Velvet’s inner thoughts reveal she always had a school-girl crush on Lancaster. She also remembers Lancaster was disappointed in her at his retirement party which is something that deeply hurt her. Lancaster is one of the few people who knows her true past and she doesn’t want him to be the fall guy so she decides to help her old friend who may be hiding in a safe place off the books he had once showed her.
Velvet enters the secret hideaway, a room in a high-level apartment building, only to discover Lancaster’s bloodied corpse. She had been so angry over the death of Keller and Lancaster being framed that it didn’t occur to her until now that she’s the one being framed. At that moment, Sgt Roberts and a squad of armed men burst through the door only to see Velvet hovering over the dead body. Velvet tries to explain but a hot-headed Sgt. Roberts jumps to conclusions and calls her a traitorous bitch.
Sgt. Roberts didn’t know who they would find when they entered the place and he underestimates Velvet which gives her the edge. She could have followed protocol and quietly gone back to headquarters as the captured mole but Roberts doesn’t know who she really is. Velvet jumps into action, taking on the entire squad with furious punches and kicks. While getting back to his feet, Roberts notices that Velvet is wearing a stealth suit. As Roberts orders the squad to fire on her, Velvet ends the issue by jumping out the window with nothing to break her long fall down the side of the building.
Velvet Templeton: No one enjoys a one night stand quite like a man about to go on a possible suicide mission.
Velvet Templeton: Don’t be silly X-14 … I was just looking for a good spot to smoke this Mary Jane I lifted off that hippie waiter.
Velvet Templeton: He doesn’t know that desk outside the Director’s office, that wasn’t my life…that was my consolation prize. My real life died a long time ago.
Final Verdict: The extra-sized first issue does a fairly good job at setting up the spy world without feeling overloaded with information. There is plenty of attention to the characterization and establishing the motivation of Velvet. However, there’s not much in the way of witty dialogue or humour which I always enjoy in my favourite comics. The tone is a mature, darker take on spy fiction. Characters are often in lowly lit shadows and all the scenes take place at night. I’m intrigued by the premise of a character who would be relegated to a background role in a James Bond or Mission Impossible movie could secretly be a kick ass former spy agent. Since Velvet is an older heroine, I like that she’s not seeing the world thru innocent eyes. She’s a seasoned veteran with a mysterious past which can be explored as the series goes on. What got me hooked for the second issue is finding out how Velvet survives her fall since she doesn’t have any superpowers. In addition, I’m curious about the ongoing mysteries such as why she’s being framed for murder. There’s nothing that blows me away in the first issue but it’s off to a promising start. Velvet is created by an accomplished writer so I’ll follow this series for at least the first story arc. Thusly, I’m going to Add It To My Pull-List.
– By Sidekick Reviews
I’d like to give a big thank you to Sidekick Reviews for sharing his Off The Shelf experience with us. If you want to see more from him I highly recommend checking out his excellent blog at http://sidekickreviews.wordpress.com/. And for anyone else thinking they’d like to join me with a guest post, just let me know in the comments below or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.