This was another comic book that was recommended, but I haven’t had a chance to get around to until now.
Velvet Templeton is the secretary for the director of a secret black-ops spy agency. It sounds like Archer’s ISIS, but without the loveable crew of weirdos, incompetents, and Lana. If it were, Velvet would be Lana masquerading as Cheryl.
Velvet wasn’t always behind a desk. When a current operative and a retired operative are murdered, Velvet finds herself framed and needing to call on her rusty skills. And godtopus bless Ed Brubaker, Velvet is in her 40’s, has a gray streak, and sleeps with whoever she wants. I’ve been reading a lot of female centered comics, but they are mostly young or young looking. It’s nice to read about a woman with gray in her hair and lines on her face kicking ass.
Volume 1 bounces around in time from the early 1950’s to “the present,” 1973. Brubaker is establishing Velvet’s stakes – a lover is murdered, she is framed for the murder of a retired operative, and she learns her late husband was not the double agent she thought he was. Yes, her motivations all revolve around dead men.
I’m alternating reading Velvet with listening to You Must Remember This podcast series look at Jean Sebring and Jane Fonda. There’s always an interesting point of investigation when a man writes a character who is a woman. Fonda and Sebring acted in roles, which became identified with them as people, that portrayed female sexuality at a time when ideas about female sexuality were changing. Those roles were written and directed by men, and in many ways had more to do with men’s fears and desires than with women as independent sexual beings. I bring this up because Velvet puts on fetishware to talk to a younger colleague, and I’m not sure what the point of the conversation was other than to portray two women in sexualized clothing. Mostly it reminded me that even though Brubaker can imagine a middle aged woman as the most dangerous spy in the world, he can’t imagine two women talking to each other in regular clothes.
I recently had a conversation with a friend about a movie we both liked. After gushing over the movie we had to add the caveat that we were bothered by the way the filmmakers used naked women’s bodies as set decorations. The conclusion we reached was that we are so used to it we ignore it in the effort to be entertained, but we wished we did not have to. I still enjoyed Velvet, but this moment felt gratuitous.
Part of the fantasy of spy versus spy is dressing up in glamorous clothes, going to fancy places, and outsmarting your opponent just when they think they have outsmarted you. Velvet does all of that, while also subverting those fantasies. Velvet Templeton has been lying to herself for years. While the men hunting her repeatedly underestimate her, she underestimates another player. At the end of The Secret Lives of Dead Men, things are not looking good for Velvet. Her only advantage now is that she has stopped allowing herself to believe pretty lies.