"Velvet" #10 wraps up the series' second story arc, "The Secret Lives of Dead Men," so readers may be anticipating a certain level of excitement. What Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting and Elizabeth Breitweiser deliver, though, is above and beyond the call of duty.
After Templeton's ambush on the train at the end of the last issue, there are some moments that you know are coming. There's going to be a fight. There's going to be an escape. Both of those are reasonable and expected. What Brubaker dreams up, though, is more expansive and far-reaching than it initially looks to be. First, there's the escape sequence. This isn't a quick couple of punches and then a leap to freedom. Brubaker and Epting instead give us an extended 13-page sequence where there are no easy outs for Templeton; every time she executes a good move that -- in other hands -- would have been a perfect escape, a new barrier is thrown in her path. This isn't simply a matter of Brubaker trying to make matters difficult, though, but rather the end result of Templeton finding herself in a much more dangerous situation than she (and the reader) initially believed. The revelation of just what Templeton has landed herself in is a real joy to watch, in no small part because it ups the stakes. For most of this storyline, Templeton's schemes and plans have gone off without a hitch. Here, she's suddenly up against a much more dangerous opponent than she's previously encountered, and it shows.
Brubaker also doesn't lose sight of the non-physical side of "Velvet" this issue. Having a new, dangerous force who is not afraid to seriously upset the apple cart does more than make things difficult for Templeton; it reminds the reader that they need to stay on their toes as much as Templeton herself does. There are several big surprises throughout this issue, and one in particular that not only puts a big question mark over what's still to come but makes one re-assess everything they've learned up until this point. Characters aren't always safe, easy endings aren't always in reach and a dangerous ally can be worse than a dangerous enemy. I can't imagine a single reader having seen the end of this issue coming, and it makes what's up next that much more exciting.
Epting and Breitweiser continue to dazzle on every page. I can't think of the last time an escape out of a train has looked so dizzying. As Templeton starts climbing out of the window, we're shown not only the side of the train, but the water and cliff face that greet her should she slip for even an instant. By tilting the image inside the panel just a touch, Epting not only brings across the swaying motion of the train as it rounds the corner in that moment, but also threatens to give the reader just a touch of vertigo. It's wonderfully creepy and it underscores the danger of what Templeton's attempting in just a single panel.
The action scenes are great. Not just when there's a lot of kicking and punching, but moments like Templeton plunging off the side of the train into the water. When she's plummeting down, the body language is perfect; her arms wrapped around her torso, her hair moving in a manner that makes readers instantly understand the angle at which she's falling and the positioning of the legs and feet when she's bracing for impact. Running, dodging, jumping -- every single moment is exhilarating. There's an amazing attention to detail here, too. It would have been easy to get rid of Templeton's jacket, for example, with its beautiful and intricate geometric pattern. Instead, Epting continues to carefully draw it in every single panel, moving in the wind to help set the scene even though it clearly makes the task that much more difficult for him. Breitweiser makes all of this work, too, with just the right level of dim colors for evening scenes, bringing across a feeling of darkness while still letting the reader follow what's going on by keeping it from being too murky. Even the panels themselves are carefully laid out on the page; I love how Epting uses diagonal borders for when the action lurches across the page, giving us that sense of everything being upended.
"Velvet" #10 is a dazzling conclusion to the series' second storyline and, hopefully, the wait for "Velvet" #11 and beyond won't be too long. Brubaker's creator-owned series have always been a joy to read, as well as his numerous collaborations with Epting. For this duo, I'd say this is easily their best work together. Brubaker and Epting's "Velvet" is what all spy stories should aspire to be. Highly recommended.