Thursday, 30 April 2015

Velvet, Volume 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men Review (Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting)

Oh hells yes, yes and more YES to this! Velvet is back and somehow the second book is even better than the first! 

Velvet Templeton looked like an average secretary. She worked for the Director of ARC-7, the (fictional) British secret intelligence agency, until she was framed for the murder of one of their top agents. Suddenly she’s on the run and it turns out Velvet wasn’t just anyone - she was one of the agency’s best before she was retired. 

Now forced back into the game, Velvet’s wrapped up her covert investigations on the continent and turned her sights back to Blighty. She’s done running - now she’s bringing the fight to her former masters’ doorsteps. Will she find out who’s setting her up? And who’s the mysterious “Pierre Duprey”? Velvet’s about to discover the rabbit hole goes down much deeper than she realised. Welcome to the “Real Game” in The Secret Lives of Dead Men. 

Ed Brubaker really knows how to write an exciting story. From the moment Velvet touches down on British soil, the tension is up as she gets through customs and begins laying false leads for the spies on her tail. As we see her make preparations, gathering supplies from old contacts, more of her backstory is related through perfectly measured flashbacks. Then Brubaker throws in an action scene just when the pace is flagging. 

The action in this book is fantastic. There’s a daring break-in to a top secret organisation, two separate kidnappings of high-profile espionage figures, AND a classic feature of the spy thriller: a fight atop a moving train! Brubaker manages to perfectly balance moments of story and character, talking/exposition and action, so there’s never too much of one and each scene builds upon the last so the pacing increases the closer we get to the end - brilliant! Exactly what a thriller should do! 

Unlike some Cold War spy thrillers, Velvet’s plot never becomes convoluted to the point of confusion. There is complexity over who’s playing who, what the truth is and what’s being covered up, and there’s the ever-present question of who’s doing this to Velvet and why - masterfully advanced just far enough but still keeping the audience in the dark - though the reader can always follow the story and knows what’s going on. 

I also really liked that Brubaker is expanding the story through the perspectives of other characters. We’re introduced to Colt and Roberts, two spies tasked with finding Velvet, and seeing things through their eyes shows us the intricacies of what’s happening - that there’s something bigger going on than just a dangerous agent gone rogue. The different characters add variety and keeps thing fresh so we don’t just have Velvet’s voice and point of view throughout. More importantly though, we see the stakes being raised - we’re not told. Showing, not telling, at it’s best. 

A large part of the comic’s success is the art team of Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser. Epting’s work has always been high quality but Velvet’s pages are something else. I’d say they’re captivatingly realistic but real life doesn’t look this gorgeous. I can’t single out specific pages to praise, they’re all without fault - the work of a true master. Breitweiser’s colours enhances the art to another level: the panels set at night in the rain, the dawn over London, the twilit train sequence, the darkened chase in the French forest; stunning, just stunning. 

My favourite comic of the year was Brubaker’s other Image series, The Fade Out, but my new favourite is Velvet, Volume 2. He truly is at the top of his game right now. He’s written some superb books in the past but he’s entered into some golden age right now and he’s being joined by two artists - Sean Phillips on The Fade Out and Steve Epting on Velvet - who’re also producing career-best pages. If you want to read some exceptional comics today, look for the ones with Ed Brubaker’s name on the front. 

The Secret Lives of Dead Men is one of the most compelling spy thrillers you’ll have the pleasure of reading. The comparisons have now shifted because Bond was never this good - Bond is like Velvet but less exciting and not nearly as badass. Velvet Volume 2 is the top tier of comics today - read it, read it, read it, I can’t recommend it more highly to every comics fan out there! 

(One minor critique: Brits say “arsehole” not “asshole” - the latter is American!)

Velvet, Volume 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men


  1. No question. This is Epting's finest work, in a career that was already hall-of-fame worthy...JC

  2. No question. This is Epting's finest work, in a career that was already hall-of-fame worthy...JC