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There are some stories that suit serialized comics well while other ones work not so well. Velvet #12, while a good issue overall, highlights some of the difficulties serialized comics have when dealing with a complex, serpentine narrative. The art of Steve Epting is again a treat, though it’s more through his drawing of faces and environments than actions. This demonstrates how Velvet #12 is an issue of set-ups and traps soon to be set. This makes it a useful comic book but not one of the best issues in the series.
Velvet Templeton, still on the run for a murder she did not commit, has determined that her ally Max is really betraying her and feeding information to her former agency, ARC-7. She has decided that she can play Max into providing some non-essential info to ARC-7 while also giving them misinformation that plays to her advantage. Meanwhile, she is searching for answers about the murder of the ARC-7 agent for whose death she has been framed. This leads to an encounter with the dangerous and unpredictable Damian Lake, who may have answers and whom Velvet so far has not been able to best.
A lot of Velvet’s misdirection here, by knowingly letting Max double-cross her, plays with the twists and turns of the espionage story structure. However, that is hard to sustain over a long stretch of issues released months apart (the last issue of Velvet came out in August). None of this will really matter when the story is released as a trade, but it is difficult to keep track of who knows what and who is deceiving whom when the subtle but important details occurred months ago. Although first-page recaps are a little hokey, they often serve a purpose. Velvet #12 does not have a recap like this, which makes some of the story of this issue stick less effectively with a reader.
That is not to say that writer Ed Brubaker does not have a reason for telling the story the way he does. He writes comic books and this is an espionage tale (something that he and Epting did quite well in Captain America). Still, I think Velvet #12 could do a little more to bring the reader along with the double-crosses. There are many instances of narrator captions, and they neatly tell one story while the dialogue tells a different one. However, I think the story of Velvet #12 could have been revealed in a way that didn’t rely so much on details from issues released months ago.
As previously mentioned, Steve Epting (along with colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser) does a really strong job of creating a visual world in Velvet #12. There is only one relatively brief action scene, so most of the issue is people talking and in environments. That type of scene can be hard for artists to make exciting, but Epting is so deft at conveying feeling and moments that even though these quieter scenes are not frantic, they are still really enjoyable for a reader. They also convey the mood of the book really nicely. With an artist less accomplished than Epting, Velvet #12 could have really flailed as an issue.
It’s pretty normal for series to have an ebb and flow of action from issue to issue. There have to be moments of set-up in order for the reveal to mean anything. At the end of Velvet #12 (in a letter-less letter page), Brubaker states that the next few issues of the series will be “crazier than usual.” So it’s understandable that this issue is setting the chess board. The dialogue and art are very strong, but I feel that the story is so complex that the set-up could be presented in a way that — while not losing the subtlety of the storytelling — makes it clearer where the story has been and where it is going.