Hey! Here’s something we haven’t done in a while… Reviews of new funnybooks! Or, well, newISH, anyway…
Velvet 3, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
We descend into the seamier side of the spy game this issue, the side that deals in casual murder and even-more-casual sex. It’s interesting to me that Brubaker has Velvet comment on the first…
…but not the second:
There’s a sense in this issue of Our Heroine slipping step by step back into the life of a field agent, and once she’s readjusted to the far worse crime of murder, sleeping with a man for information is something she does as a matter of course. Even if she does choose the best-looking target available.
It’s the sort of thing we see James Bond do all the time, but with a female lead, the dynamic changes a bit. It’s a nice bit of role-reversal, at the very least: Velvet thinks as little of men as Bond does of women, but she seems to enjoy using them every bit as much. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen Bond resolve to seduce an unattractive target the way Velvet does here, of course, but I suspect that’s the George Smiley side of the spy genre shining through.
More than that, though, I’m impressed with how Brubaker and Epting handle the scene from a storytelling perspective. It would be easy to go for exploitation stuff there, or at the very least some cheesecake. But even the nude scene seems more utilitarian than sensationalistic. This is not say that Epting’s drawing of the unclad Velvet Templeton isn’t sexy; that’s a nice boob he’s drawn there. But it’s a post-coital boob, on-camera almost incidentally as Our Heroine gets down to business rifling the desk. They could have had her put her bra on first, I suppose, but I like that she doesn’t bother. It speaks to the fact that, for her, it’s all just business.
That’s a particularly interesting dynamic to explore in a story that then shows us the consequences of that business on the targets. Specifically, on Marina, a Yugoslavian general’s trophy wife, who got pregnant after a dalliance with a male agent. What happens to her is not pretty, and puts Velvet’s own actions into a different perspective. Because she’s reflected in both sides of that earlier dalliance: Velvet used the official she slept with just like her friend used Marina, but her willingness to bed the older, uglier man before his aide came along also isn’t that far removed from Marina’s loveless marriage to the general. Is all this a cause for self-reflection? No. At least, not yet, and I kind of hope it doesn’t become one. Blind spots like that make characters like Velvet more interesting.
On the art side, Steve Epting continues to turn in career-best work, his rock-solid realist illustrations enhanced by experiments in shading that put me in mind of David Lloyd:
The whole artistic package, though, is something I would compare favorably to Al Williamson’s classic work on Secret Agent X-9, and that’s the sort of praise I don’t dole out often. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Elizabeth Breitweiser’s turning in such very good work on the colors:
Putting aside for a minute the beauty of the rich reds on display there, I also love the ragged edges of color, and the way it breaks off into brush strokes in the bottom left. Breitweiser’s drawing with color quite a bit on this book, and she defines the look of the pages almost as much as Epting himself.
So that’s three incredible chunks of pop comics brilliance in a row for this book. Brubaker continues to balance Bond and Smiley against each other, with Epting and Breitweiser providing primo visuals. This is funnybooks of the first rank, people! Miss it at your own loss!
Fatale 19, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Jo’s time in the Seattle grunge scene comes to as bad an end as you might expect, with lots of bodies and even more blood. I’ve waxed rhapsodic about this storyline before, so I won’t go into any details here. But this issue does give us an even bigger glimpse of her power unleashed, and it becomes even more obvious why Sommerset wants her so badly.
Of course, considering that even the story’s lurking serial killer winds up little more than another pathetic sucker addicted to whatever it is Our Girl’s got… I also can’t help but wonder if he’s not a little bit under her spell, too.
But speaking of Sommerset… He’s the punchline of maybe my favorite joke in this whole storyline. Because it’s revealed that he’s bought out the “Sub-Track” record label, an obvious stand-in for the real-world Sub Pop. Which means that the major label buy-out of 90s alternative rock was really the result of a grand occult plan for cultural domination. Which… Okay. Makes sense to me.
Young Avengers 14-15, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Many Others
I’ll miss this book. It was fun, light spandex funnybooks done right. It had an irreverent attitude toward the genre’s many tropes, while still playing to those tropes. It was funny and even touching, but with enough of an edge to keep it from getting cute. It was an innovator in storytelling and panel design, but in a fun, intuitive way that makes sense even to a funnybook novice. It felt lively, youthful, and utterly modern, but not in a way that put off an old man like me. Things were kicked, hearts were broken, villains were creepy, and everything worked out fine in the end. Really, you couldn’t ask for a better teen hero comic.
But it’s done now. And though I’ll miss it, I’ll look forward to Gillen and McKelvie’s next project even more.
Sex Criminals 4, by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
SUCH a good comic. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading this?
What? You are? Oh. Then you KNOW how good it is. I don’t have to tell you.
It’s really great.
Mind MGMT 18, by Matt Kindt
A stand-alone issue about a little girl who can talk to the animals. It’s good work, as always, and the Richard Scarry page gave me a good chuckle:
This issue highlights something I’ve been a bit confused about in this book, though: the timeline. How long as Mind MGMT been shut down, exactly? I can’t keep track. Sometimes I think it’s at least a decade, but others… The girl in this story leaves Shangri-La at what looks like late elementary school age, and appears in the present as a teenager. Which would make it more like five or six years, max. Hrm.
It’s not really important (unless, of course, it is and I just don’t know it yet). It’s just something I can’t keep straight, and it tickles at the back of my head every once in a while. Eh. Just thought I’d mention it. That time fluctuation (or rather, my perception of a time fluctuation) is just one more wrinkle in a book that purposefully keeps you guessing at what’s really happening. Which is why I like it in the first place, so I shouldn’t really complain.
Prophet 42, by Ron Wimberly
So. A fill-in issue. It was weird and all, and I appreciate Brandon Graham giving lesser-known cartoonists a shot on a more high-profile gig. But it really wasn’t all that good, and broke the flow of the larger on-going story to boot. So… Ah well.
Hawkeye 16, by Matt Fraction and Annie Wu
Another Kate Bishop: L.A. Detective story, this one about a broken musical genius from the 1960s. Like the previous West Coast Kate stories, it was charming and a good read. But good as the Kate issues are, they’re a light and airy distraction from the things that made the first year of this book so good. They’re necessitated by the fact that David Aja can’t do monthly, of course…
…and I understand the realities of mainstream funnybook publishing. But given the choice between getting something monthly, or getting something that’s creatively coherent… I’ll always wait for coherency.
Aaaaand… I think that’s all for now. I’ve got a couple more books from last week in my review stack, but they’ll keep. Next time: More reviews! Or maybe a Wonder Woman piece I’ve been researching. Or something else, if it catches my fancy in the meantime. The funnybook world is my oyster!