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what if a 40-something secretary was secretly James Bond all along?
July 15, 2014 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Ed Brubaker on Velvet (his new comic book series with Steve Epting): “I loved the idea of flipping the typical male-oriented spy story, and doing one about a woman who was also a mature, middle-aged woman.”
Although writer Ed Brubaker has a long history of scripting espionage and crime comics—including the award-winning Criminal—he and Velvet artist Steve Epting are probably best known for their work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the comicbook story that inspired the recent blockbuster film. [...]

When he considered most spy movies and novels, he realized that they tended to look at female characters in the same way: as secretaries sitting behind desks, ornamental Bond girls, or sexualized villains. “It just seemed like such bullshit,” says Brubaker. But for him, it was bullshit that came with a silver lining: “There was so much fertile ground there to explore.”

...“I didn’t want there to have to be some tragedy in Velvet’s life that made her want to be a spy, like terrorists killed her father or something... I like the idea of a little girl going through her dad’s stuff and finding out there are women spies who are these awesome fucking heroes, and wanting to be like that.”

...He saw the character’s age as fundamental to the story; it helped cement her as mature, seasoned rather than a vulnerable young woman-in-danger, and it allowed her to have a deeper, richer history as a spy. “In the espionage field, it totally makes sense that someone could have a secret history; they could have a job for 20 years that turns out to be a front, basically,” says Brubaker. “But it has to be someone who’s lived a real life.”

When he started pitching the concept as a TV pilot, however, Velvet’s age turned out to be more controversial than expected. “The notes that we got from everybody were that she needed to be 25, and an agent-in-training learning from the cool male secret agent. I was just like ‘OK, this is… just appalling to me,’” Rather than a character that had lived a real life, they wanted a woman 20 years younger, stripped of Velvet’s expertise and maturity. “Imagine Taken, if Liam Neeson’s character were 30,” he adds. “It’s just not the same movie.”

Brubaker recalls one of his favorite actors, Diane Lane, talking about how all the good roles seemed to evaporate after she turned 40, leaving nothing but moms or jilted wives left for younger women. “How is it possible that nobody wants to write an amazing part for a woman that’s not basically a kid? Most of the [male] actors we see in the world are in their 40s, or late 30s,” he says. “You don’t see the person who chose to be James Bond but also happens to be a woman.”
Comics Alliance: Brubaker and Epting’s ‘Velvet’: The Super-Spy Done Right [Review]
Comic Book Resources: Brubaker Prepares for Cold War Espionage in "Velvet"
Newsarama: From Winter Soldier To Woman Spy: Ed Brubaker on "Velvet"

preview pages from each comic, viewable online (images):
*Velvet, issue #1
*Velvet, issue #2
*Velvet, issue #3
*Velvet, issue #4
*Velvet, issue #5

Onion A.V. Club: Pretty Deadly and Velvet put women in charge for two incredible debuts
Velvet is a noir-tinged spy drama that takes the Girl Friday archetype and makes her the most badass person in the room... Setting the book during the Cold War adds the retro allure of TV shows like Mad Men and The Americans (this first issue shows events between 1963 and 1973), and Steve Epting’s detailed artwork does extraordinary work evoking the time period through clothing, hairstyles, and classic automobiles.
Ed Brubaker previously on MeFI
also relevant (on MeFi last week) - Hollywood Magic: impossibly young mothers, ageism against women
posted by flex (32 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I just love Velvet. I found the recent decades-spanning issue a little confusing, but other than that, really solid. She just feels so real.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:53 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]


I knew Moneypenny was the real hero all along.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:57 AM on July 15 [4 favorites]


See also: Greg Rucka's Queen and Country.
posted by bonehead at 11:11 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]


in other comic book gender flipping, Marvel's Thor is now a woman
posted by yeoz at 11:13 AM on July 15


This stuck out for me as well:

The notes that we got from everybody were that she needed to be 25, and an agent-in-training learning from the cool male secret agent.


Most network executives are just fucking idiots. Melinda May is one of the best things about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:17 AM on July 15 [4 favorites]


This would make such a kick-ass TV show. Maybe Velvet will get another chance after proving herself on the page?

I don't generally read comics, but I may just have to look this one up.
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:27 AM on July 15


"All I wanted was to be like her... and not just for the life of adventure and danger... I wanted to be like her because she mattered."

YES!
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 11:30 AM on July 15


this is really cool! I hope it gets turned into a TV show
posted by rebent at 11:39 AM on July 15


The unexplored perspective is always the more interesting. … If I wanted to write a Sherlock Holmes story, I’d write it from the point of view of Watson.

They… they are written from the point of view of Watson?
posted by BrashTech at 11:59 AM on July 15 [29 favorites]


TheWhiteSkull: "
Most network executives are just fucking idiots. Melinda May is one of the best things about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"

I can't believe I just realized this, but the AoS creative team's decision to have 50-year-old Ming-Na Wen having no-strings-attached sex with a prettyboy male agent who's at least 20 years her junior is just the gender-flipped version of what James Bond's been getting away with for years.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:16 PM on July 15 [5 favorites]


I'm a fat, 38 year old woman. I've often said I would make the perfect spy because nobody even knows I'm in the room.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:21 PM on July 15 [19 favorites]


Hello, Mrs. Pollifax? You can come back out of retirement again.
posted by suelac at 1:37 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


I knew Moneypenny was the real hero M all along.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:52 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


See also: Greg Rucka's Queen and Country.

Quoted for motherfucking truth.
posted by nushustu at 2:15 PM on July 15


In looking at the sample pages, it looks as if Epting may have taken some inspiration from Brubaker's appreciation of Diane Lane when designing the title character.

Not an exact likeness, but close enough that Lane would be an obvious contender for the role if "Velvet" ever were to get a film or TV version.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 2:33 PM on July 15


Ed Brubaker: It's ongoing. It has an end point eventually, but I have no idea how long it will take to get there.

Ouch. My guess is the amount of time it takes to get there is however long the issues keep selling over break-even.

This "not knowing" seems to be true of all the "A-list" comics writers, that they don't actually have any planned vision for where their story is going. It's why we get pages and pages of nothing at all happening, such as in Lazarus (someone suggested the same in the letters page, and was basically told to go fuck himself). Even Warren Ellis' new Moon Knight series, where each issue is a self-contained story, has pages and pages of nothing happening. Makes it hard to justify dropping five bucks a month on a book.

Nothing happens in Prophet either, but man is that book hypnotic. It's almost the same deal with Zero, which just about hits the threshold of being a nothing-happens-but-it's-compelling-as-heck type of comic.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:43 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


When he considered most spy movies and novels, he realized that they tended to look at female characters in the same way: as secretaries sitting behind desks, ornamental Bond girls, or sexualized villains.
...He saw the character’s age as fundamental to the story; it helped cement her as mature, seasoned rather than a vulnerable young woman-in-danger, and it allowed her to have a deeper, richer history as a spy.

V.I.Warshawski. LOVED the film adaptation, partly because she takes as (impossibly) many punches to the face as any male dick - and aside from slapping a raw steak on her face, there's no after-effects a scotch and seltzer can't hide. So, from that POV: completely adopting the male gumshoe mythos, without any gender adjustments.

Age 38 in the film, according to Wikipedia.

Sleeps with any guy who catches her eye, and kicks them out in the morning. Not depicted as slutty, despite being sexually aggressive and voracious.
That ain't the way I hang, handsome...
Sure, um, I'll call you.

(not actual quotes, but in her spirit)

And her enemies view her as a hated foe, not a vulnerable woman.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:44 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


One of the biggest missed opportunities in the Winter Soldier film was when the older woman Senator / Congresswoman starts kicking ass and, well, spoilers.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 3:22 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Most network executives are just fucking idiots. Melinda May is one of the best things about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D."

All I want for season 2 of AoS is for them to handwave a way to bring Victoria Hand back, ditch the rest of the cast, and have the rest of the season be about May and Hand being spy girlfriends having spy girlfriend adventures together.

It's also all I want from seasons 3-100 of AoS
posted by kagredon at 3:34 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I also came into this thread to ensure that Q&C got its proper props, not just because it was a good comic about a government assassin who happened to be a woman, but also because it was a good comic about being a government assassin in the vein of being just another job with cubicles, paperwork, office politics, high caliber firearms and PTSD .

If 007 films are supposed to be a sexed up version of the glamorous 60's ad exec lifestyle with corporate jet travel, expense accounts, and on the road hookers, then Q&C was the spy genre as proxy for IT consulting with all nighters, crappy clothing, and shitty work-life balance.

I am still kind of sad that it never got the ending that it deserved and just kind of petered out.
posted by bl1nk at 4:32 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


I really like Velvet for a number of reasons, not least of which is its depiction of a woman in her forties as sexy as hell (I have yet to hear anyone marvel that, at 46, Daniel Craig is still hot). And while a show would be nice and all, Epting's art is just fantastic; a well-made show would be good, but not the same. (Epting does work that's very cinematic but at the same time pure comics, not at all the storyboard-style sequentials you see in a lot of books that clearly live in hope of being adapted to film or television.) My only caveat with Velvet is that I think it may read better in big chunks, and not because it's decompressed -- on the contrary, there's a lot in every issue -- but because there is so much that it's easy to lose track of plot details in the month between episodes.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:30 PM on July 15


Wow, based on that interview alone I'm ready to drop cash on the book, now.
posted by Lexica at 5:40 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I agree, the books are good in chunks -- and they're really good. Are and writing, and I'm not a bit comic book reader.

Amanda Cross (really Carolyn Heilbrun) had a p.i. series, and in one of them the main character took a backseat to an older woman who wanted to investigate some particular wrongdoing (I don't remember it) and -- this is in the 80's, I think -- did point out that older women can go anywhere and do anything because they are invisible.

I wonder how long that idea's been around...

But Velvet is not that lady.
posted by allthinky at 6:44 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


But damn! I'm 44-I cannot be middle aged. That means someone definitely older than me. I have a freaking 4 year old, after all.

Also, cool stories!
posted by purenitrous at 6:50 PM on July 15


I wonder how long that idea's been around...

Dorothy L. Sayers gave her crimesolving aristo, Lord Peter Wimsey, the invaluable Miss Climpson.
It is not exactly known when Wimsey recruited Miss Climpson to run an undercover employment agency for women, a means to garner information from the otherwise inaccessible world of spinsters and widows, but it is prior to Unnatural Death (1927), in which Miss Climpson assists Wimsey's investigation of the suspicious death of an elderly cancer patient. (Wikipedia)
More on Miss Climpson.
posted by GrammarMoses at 8:33 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Miss Climpson! She was the first character I thought of when I saw this. I wish Sayers had written some Miss Climpson stories. I also wish Barbara Pym had written mystery novels.
posted by a fair but frozen maid at 8:57 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I want this so bad.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:53 PM on July 15


I just picked this up today. The guy at the store complimented me on the choice, and we got into a little chat about how there was virtual silence about this title, until it got bundled into a trade. Seems the general audience for trade paperbacks is older and willing to branch out into more out of the mainstream stories than the audience that buys singles.
posted by bashos_frog at 10:40 PM on July 15


So, Scarecrow and Mrs. King?
posted by pseudocode at 3:29 AM on July 16


We've all seen Haywire, right?
posted by judson at 8:15 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I'm a fat, 38 year old woman. I've often said I would make the perfect spy because nobody even knows I'm in the room.--Foam Pants

This is actually true (not that you are fat--of course you are not fat). A friend of mine almost became a CIA spy. They took too long to make the offer and by then he already had another job. He is completely non-noticeable. Look around at a crowd. Now really look at the people you normally ignore, gloss over, don't even see. Sometimes you really have to focus because you are so use to ignoring them all your life. Those people make the perfect spies. The spy agencies know this and prefer such people. They need to be able to walk into a building and walk out without anyone paying attention. That doesn't happen if the spy is 6'3", handsome, and buff.

Incidentally, when he got the job offer, it had been so long he'd forgotten all about the CIA. They called and he had this conversation:
"This is the company calling about your job application."
"What company?"
"You know, the company. In Washington."
"Boeing?" (Another place he had applied for a job).
"NO. THE COMPANY."
long pause..."Oh!, That company!"
posted by eye of newt at 12:05 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


So I ordered Velvet immediately after reading this post and today it came in the mail and was as good as the original poster said it would be.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:01 PM on July 29 [1 favorite]


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