Im­age ROUND-UP

An en­er­getic Im­age has yet more new ti­tles – and yes, they’re good

Comic Heroes - - Front Page - Ed Brubaker

vel­vet

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.

Wel­come to Cum­world

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

Ash

WRITER: ARTIST: Out: Now

And The Ar my Of Dark­ness

There’s more to Emma Pee­la­like Vel­vet than first meets the eye. Frac­tion ’s bonkers tale of bank rob­berie s and, er, bonk­ing .

When in­ter­net dat­ing fails, there’s Ada. A near fu­ture tale of love and lone­li­ness. Gillen de­liv­ers a dash of re­al­ism with Three. Yep, it’s the Queen sin­ga­long scene. Mi­nus the lyrics.

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