Mr. Vertigo Reviews 39: Velvet Vol.1 – Before The Living End; Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 – The Shrike; Fairest Vol. 4 – Of Men And Mice

Velvet 1Velvet Vol.1 – Before The Living End
Ed Brubaker, writer; Steve Epting, artist; Elizabeth Breitweiser, colors
Image Comics

If you like a good spy story, you’ve come to the right place. Brubaker is rightly known for his crime comics (especially Criminal), but the recent series Fatale delved into the world of secret societies and the occult. This is a classic British secret agent tale, with the fictional Arc-7 taking the place of MI6: an agency so secret that most other secret agencies don’t know about it. Every operation is a black op.

When one of their operatives is assassinated during an op all signs point to an inside job, so an internal investigation begins. Velvet Templeton, the personal secretary to the Director of the Agency, can’t believe that the man they identify could be a traitor, so she begins to investigate on her own. We soon learn that she is actually a retired field agent, and the frame she uncovers quickly includes her as well.

From there it’s almost nonstop action, with car chases, hand-to-hand combat, burglary…she even breaks someone out of an East European prison. Along the way we learn more and more about her past through a series of flashbacks. Her investigation even turns up the codename of her ex-husband, giving her a personal stake in her findings (in addition to clearing her own name!).

Epting contributes realistic visuals, similar to Sean Phillips’ collaborations with Brubaker. The fight scenes and talking heads do get broken up by an occasion splash page, like the stunning Carnival shot in one issue. This collects the first five issues of the series, which sets up a rich story line for lots of issues to come.

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Pretty Deadly 1Pretty Deadly Vol. 1 – The Shrike
Kelly Sue DeConnick, script; Emma Rios, art & cover; Jordie Bellaire, colors; Clayton Cowles, letters
Image Comics

Kelly Sue DeConnick has made her name primarily writing Marvel superhero comics, so this occult horror Western caught me completely by surprise. This is not only a completely different genre, but a completely different style of story telling as well. It has been compared to both Sandman and Preacher–hard to avoid with the Western setting and Death as a character–but I would also point to The Sixth Gun as a more contemporary reference point, although I have no idea what may have influenced DeConnick and Rios.

Each issue begins with a dialog between a butterfly and a rabbit (which continues just the same after the rabbit is killed and has decomposed into a skeleton). That alone would tell you we’re not in familiar territory, but the human characters turn out to be nearly as strange. Death’s daughter Ginny rides the wind on a horse made of smoke, with a face bearing her father’s skull marks. Much of this first story arc (Issues 1 – 5) revolves around her origin story.

Co-creator Emma Ríos’s art plays a huge part in the tone of the story. She is a Spanish artist whose work in the U.S. market has often had supernatural themes: she penciled Hexed for Boom! Studios, and illustrated Strange, the Dr. Strange limited series written by Mark Waid  for Marvel.

She employs a loose, impressionistic drawing style here. In the Vertigo world, she would be more like Dean Ormston than Mark Buckingham. It can become very kinetic, where movement on the page seems more important than the details.

The characters are introduced without prequel or explanation. I found the first couple of issues rather hard to follow, and I mean that in a good way. My patience was rewarded in the end. An unexpected, intriguing series, which I intend to follow for awhile to see where it leads.

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Fairest 4Fairest Vol. 4 – Of Men And Mice
Marc Andreyko, writer; Shawn McManus, artist
Vertigo Comics

Can’t go wrong with a Cinderella story, although this one is not quite the equal of the two miniseries that feature her (it does have the advantage of McManus’s art, making the three stories visually consistent). It ties into the main Fables timeline, taking places after the “Camelot” storyline, issues 131-137.

The big mystery is an assassination campaign against several leading Fables, conducted by a new human-rodent hybrid. What are these mice-men, and who are they working for? The answers lead back to Cinderella’s origin, which is one of the best parts of the story Nice to meet the Fairy Godmother in her prime, and to see her back in action at the end. Although the focus is firmly on Cinderella, two male characters play an important part: Marcel, one of Cinderella’s original mice coachmen; and the Hindu god Ramayan (who is depicted with blue skin, common in images of him).

The story doesn’t fully tie in with Fables until the end. The true villain engages in an effective deception to place the blame on a seemingly obvious target. Nicely done, although the story as a whole is rather slight. You do get lots of mice fight scenes, but I suppose series like Mouse Guard and The Mice Templar have nothing to worry about.

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About marksullivan5

Librarian, Jazz musician, comic book fan
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