Tag Archives: Elizabeth Breitweiser

The rest of Ed Brubaker’s Velvet

Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting, Velvet Volume 2: The Secret Lives of Dead Men (Image 2014)
——, Velvet Volume 3: The Man Who Stole the World (Image 2016)

velvet2 velvet3My reliable son lent me the remaining volumes of Velvet in return for walking his dog and picking up a parcel from the post office.

Reading the two books took just a bit longer than the walk to and from the post office with two aged and wilful dogs, and was a much smother experience. I was glad at times that I wasn’t in a crowded street because a couple of the pages, in which Velvet Templeton allays the suspicions of a man who is betraying her by indulging in intimate acts, are pretty NSFW.

I don’t know if there are any plans for further adventures of Velvet, glamorous super-spy. She came back from a desk job in the first of these books. There’s nothing in principal stopping her coming back at some future time from the beach resort where we leave her at the end of the third volume. But I’d be happy to have this be the end of this elegantly written, drawn, coloured (by Elizabeth Breitweiser) and lettered (by Chris Eliopoulos) series, to have the door close on all these twists and turns, alliances and betrayals, murders and rescues, seductions and rejections.

As my supplier said, it’s popcorn. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

 

Velvet and Descender begin

Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting and others, Velvet Volume 1: Before the Living End (Image Comics 2014)
Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen and others, Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars (Image Comics 2015)

These two books, on loan from a son, have been singing their siren song from by TBR pile for months. I lashed myself to the mast of serious reading for a long time, but I’ve finally succumbed – and a good thing too.

velvet1 Velvet is a spy story set in the 1970s, with flashbacks to the 50s. It’s a Bond movie from before those movies started reducing the violence to get PG ratings, with a glamorous woman protagonist who’s in her 40s but would pass for 25. Lots of gore, lots of exposed flesh (but nothing you wouldn’t see at the beach), cool gadgets (including a fabulous ‘stealth suit’) and – as you’d expect from Ed Brubaker, writer of Fatale and The Fade Out – intrigue aplenty.

Before the Living End begins with the violent death of a field agent accompanied by a ‘voice over’ reminiscing about the boss’s glamorous assistant. It ends with that assistant, former field agent Velvet Templeton, on the run, determined to clear herself of suspicion by finding the real killer–mole, and at the same time find out the truth about the terrible events that led to her removal from the field 17 years earlier.

Steve Epting’s artwork is slick and moody, capturing the Bond version of 70s cool perfectly. Colors [sic] by Elizabeth Breitweiser and letters by Chris Eliopoulos are impeccable.

descender1From international espionage to intergalactic AI in a single bound.

Descender takes place in the distant future, on the planets of the United Galactic Council. After a prologue in which enormous humanoid robots attack the eight worlds of the UGC, the main story picks up ten years later with a little boy waking from a long sleep on a small mining colony to find everybody else dead. The boy, it turns out, is a sentient robot named Tim–21 who was a companion to a human child.

A connection between Tim–21 and the gigantic destroyer robots is gradually revealed, and soon he and a band of allies – the scientist who created him, an irritating robot dog, a UGC officer named Telsa (not Tesla), a loyal muscleman, and an ore driller with enough artificial intelligence to be a dumb sidekick – are fleeing and fighting for their lives as any number of criminal and state bodies are out to get him, not always for reasons the reader yet understands. We do know for sure it’s not a case of ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’. In the background there is a Dantesque purgatory teeming with the souls of decommissioned robots who look to Tim-21 as their possible saviour.

It’s complex, ripping-yarn fun.

Dustin Nguyen’s watercolour art is beautiful, but not ideal as a story-telling medium: too often it’s too hard to tell what is happening. And Steve Wands’ lettering is sometimes too concerned with the design look, and not enough with legibility. But these are quibbles set alongside the wonderfully poignant images of the vulnerable child at the heart of the story.

As soon as I’d read these books I texted my son–supplier, who has two more volumes of each series. I guess I’ll be writing about them soon.

Ed Brubaker’s Fade Out ends

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, with colours by Elizabeth Breitweiser, The Fade Out, Act Three (Image 2016)

1632156296There’s a lot of old Hollywood anti-Communism around just now. On Thursday night I saw Jay Roach’s Trumbo at the movies. On Friday night we had a family birthday outing to the Coen brothers’ Hail, Caesar! On Saturday I read this birthday-present comic, the final ‘Act’ ofFade Out. All three deal with the House Un-American Activities Committee’s attack on Hollywood writers in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Trumbo tells the story of Dalton Trumbo, probably the most famous of the black-listed authors. It’s not a documentary, but it’s firmly rooted in history, challenging our complacency with an implied warning that national security has been used in the recent past as a figleaf to cover authoritarian measures in a nominally democratic country, and no doubt will be again. That is to say, maybe it’s a bit pedestrian, but it’s serious about its subject. The Coen Brothers, by contrast, take the Communist scare as one more trope to play with in their fabulously stylish sandpit: they hold the anti-Communist fantasies up to ridicule by creating a literal version of them, but any suggestion that the beast that bore them is on heat again must come from the audience. The Fade Out lies somewhere between the two: a tremendously stylish homage to period Hollywood, but the Hollywood of film noir was already angry about injustice, and also deeply, grimly pessimistic about it. Not only is the anti-Communist scare a key element, but there is also the political corruption, sexual scandal, blackmail and violence that dark Hollywood fiction thrives on.

In this ‘Act’, the many threads of the story are tied off: the truly evil are at least privately unmasked and are punished in secret or escape scot free; one suspected villain turns out to be something other; there is tragedy, betrayal and a satisfactorily grim conclusion (think Jake Gittes’ final line, ‘It’s Chinatown,’ in Chinatown).

I don’t have anything more to add to my comments on Acts One and Two, but maybe I can slip in a couple of frames to demonstrate that the book passes theBechdel–Wallace test (just), and also to demonstrate that it inhabits the same world as Trumbo, in which Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren going over the top) is a dedicated reactionary, and Hail, Caesar!, in which twin gossip columnists (played by Tilda Swinton even more so) likewise feed the anti-Communist frenzy. Dotty, on the phone here, works in publicity spinning stories about actors, and is paradoxically the most honest character in the story.

fo3.jpg

Ed Brubaker’s Fade Out

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, with colours by Elizabeth Breitweiser, The Fade Out
Act One
 (Image 2015)
– Act Two 
(Image 2015)

1632151715I’ve no sooner decided that superhero comics bore me than the universe, mediated through the generosity of my sons, sends me an apparently endless stream of comics in other genres: investigative journalism, space opera, fairytale epic, domestic comedy, and now Hollywood noir.

It’s 1948. Our narrator, Charlie Parrish, is a Hollywood writer. Traumatised by his experience in World War Two he can’t write a thing, but he keeps his job by secretly taking dictation from his friend Gil, who has been blacklisted by the House Unamerican Activities Committee and so can’t get any work in his own name.

1632154471A beautiful woman is murdered in the first couple of pages, and the crime scene is altered to make it look like suicide. Charlie sets out to investigate and uncovers as much corruption, secretiveness and deranged viciousness as Philip Marlowe or Sam Spade could ever have wished for. He also gets beaten up quite a bit and gets involved with the beautiful woman who has replaced the murder victim in the film they’re all makng. He and Gil have a difficult relationship, not helped by Gil’s alcohol intake and his tendency to want to speak truth to power without regard for the consequences. Some real characters appear: Clark Gable knows Charlie from his war days, and Dashiell (‘Sam’) Hammett gives advice on how to flush out a murderer.

The plot is still thickening at the end of Act Two. Trails have been laid that may lead to interesting places – for example, will we be given the details of Charlie’s war experiences? I can’t find any information about how many more Acts are to come. Act Three is due out next month, and then who knows?

Brubaker and Phillips have been a team for more than 16 years, and the work feels seamless. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colouring deserves a mention for its wonderfully evocative moodiness. The shadowy details of Hollywood behind the scenes may be a little hard for my ageing eyes to make out when I’m reading at night, but it’s worth the effort. Here’s a page I’ve lifted from the Image website:

FadeOut.jpg

The books, each a compilation of four original comics, are beautifully done. There’s none of the generational lossiness or iffy registration that bedevils comics from a couple of decades back, and the four original covers reproduced up the back of each book are stunning.