An energetic Image has yet more new titles – and yes, they’re good
Clearly the most dynamic mainstream comic book outfit of the moment – every month brings at least a couple of interesting new creator-owned series – Image is currently putting out more good titles than we can keep up with.
The most immediately impressive of late has been Velvet, from the old Captain America team of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting; this is similarly well-paced, full of intrigue, packed with nicely choreographed action, and heavy on clandestine meetings in shadowy offices and sudden gunfire on rain-soaked streets. With Cap, Brubaker and his artists dragged things as close as possible to the Cold War espionage milieu while remaining a superhero book, but Velvet is the real deal: a deft cross between the paranoia and confusion of a Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the larger than life glamour of ’60s James Bond. We’re in Arc-7, a covert London-based spy outfit – the “secret remnant of an Allied Espionage Group from World War Two”, we’re told – where suave, dinnersuited ‘X-Operatives’ make good use of their licenses to kill, and a beautiful, quietly ageing secretary called Velvet Templeton seems more capable than anyone gave her credit for.
With the X-Ops being murdered and corruption at the heart of the agency, Velvet – think Miss Moneypenny, with Rogue’s streak of white hair – kicks off her high heels, slips on a “stealth suit”, and leaps into action: her secret past, as a top field agent, is revealed. Strong female protagonists are hot properties in comics, and Velvet is more intriguing than most – thank her age, her chequered past, her Jason Bourne-like skills, and the very serious worry that, at this point, we really don’t know which side she’s on. If you’re in the market for a cool, multi-layered adventure starring a non-generic kickass babe told in muted greys, browns and blues, then Velvet is a no-brainer.
Straight out of the gate, it’s one of the year’s best comics.
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Velvet may be the most immediately loveable of the new Image titles, but the strangest and most inventive is surely Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. It’s a love story, a coming-of-age tale, a heist drama and a sci-fi conspiracy piece told in a smart, inventive style that’ll have you giggling with glee one minute and rolling your eyes the next. Fraction puts to good use here all the wit he’s shown on mainstream books like Marvel’s Hawkeye, as well as some of the more unusual layouts he’s known for, while Canadian artist Chip Zdarsky (best known for the Extremely Bad
strip he writes and draws for his country’s National Post newspaper) keeps up effortlessly, using a cartoony style perhaps best described as “Daniel Clowes goes manga”.
By modern standards this is a goodvalue book – there’s tons of story, plus up to seven pages of hilarious letters per issue – and a most unusual one: at various points we get a couple of pages of made-up sex positions; a four-page sequence where our leads sing Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” in a pool hall; and a chase through a shop featuring a little brick road showing the direction our hero runs, plus the instruction: “Cue the Benny Hill music.”
And what’s it all about? Well, a young girl discovers that when she orgasms the world stops for a while, and she can wander about it with everyone frozen in place. On meeting a guy with the same power, they decide to rob banks – but they hadn’t counted on some mysterious, white-garbed “sex police” types hunting them down. Those who venture outside the world of comics occasionally may recognise the basic set-up from Nicholson Baker’s 1994 novel The Fermata, rather than
If you’re in the market for a cool, multi-layered adventure, then Velvet is a no-brainer
it being – yawn – yet another comic taking its cue from Tarantino films.
A more touching take on sex and romance is be be found in Alex + Ada, a new solo-ish venture from FilipinoAmerican writer-artist Jonathan Luna, better known for his “Luna Brothers” partnership with younger sibling Joshua. It revolves around a bored, pleasant-looking office worker called Alex, whose flat, easy life is thrown into disarray when his disreputable grandma gets him an unexpected present. Except for the robot helpers, self-driving cars and fancy communications tech, this is a world much like our own, and the Tanaka X-5 android Alex now finds himself caring for – a beautiful woman-child exhibiting heartbreaking Apple-style user-friendliness – sends him into a right tizzy. Keep her? Return her? Both seems horribly painful options, and then there’s the question of what his friends will think.
Two issues in there’s been no nudity, no fighting, not even so much as a raised voice, but the shadows of sex and sorrow hang over everything. A quiet story beautifully realised – bravo!
Kieron Gillen’s Three, meanwhile, is an interesting reaction to Frank Miller’s beautiful, bombastic, historically cherry-picking 300, the highlyinfluential retelling of the last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. Miller touches on the brutality of the Spartan way of life in his work, but depicts it as heroically single-minded in the main, and skips past those elements we may find more troubling: the extensive slave ownership, the gleeful brutality, the very different attitudes towards homosexuality. Gillen says, hang on a minute, let’s try for a more historically veracious version here, and sets his story 100 years after the battle, when Sparta was at the peak of its powers, yet soon to become victim of its own bizarre nature.
Drawn in a bold, thick-lined style by Ryan Kelly, the book encourages us to see the Spartans as capricious and cruel, a warrior caste riding on the back of the helot slaves who make all their posturing possible. When three mismatched helots find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time, their lives seem over: how can you fight, or even run from, such a regime? We now follow their surely-doomed attempts to flee the madness of Sparta in what reads like an extra-historical version of one of Garth Ennis’s war stories, and comics rarely get better than that. Matt Bielby
WRITER: ARTIST: Out: Now
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