Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A CLOSER LOOK: Ed Brubaker’s Comic Book Series ‘Velvet’, Part I…Day 154 of Bond 365

Today is a free day with no historical happenings in the Bond universe that I have come across in my own research. Since it is a "free day" so to speak, I thought now was a perfect to introduce you to an ongoing comic book series titled that I have been enjoying since last year. 

As part of the Comics Arts Conference series at WonderCon 2014, I presented “Ed Brubaker’s Velvet Templeton Leaves Miss Moneypenny Behind in the Period Spy Thriller, Velvet." Revisiting that 20-minute presentation, I have revised and expanded on it here and I anticipate completing this analysis over multiple blog posts in the coming weeks.

Back in 2012 as the franchise was preparing to celebrate 50 years of James Bond on film, a question was posed on one of the MI-6 community forums:

What if James Bond [was] female?

Out of the several pages of comments that spanned over a year, here’s a highlight of a few of those posts that represent a cross-section of responses:

  • One person wrote that he would want to be a Bond “boy” and that we would have characters like ‘Penis Galore’
  • There would have been a male Moneypenny and only females would wear the mantle of M
  • In one response, the person gave some thought about how the Bond story would have changed to accommodate a female Bond instead. For instance, ‘Jane’ Bond would have probably been one of the girls going through Blofeld’s program in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and perhaps as a showgirl in Diamonds Are Forever.
  • Another person brought up Modesty Blaise, a comic strip by Peter O’Donnell that began in 1963 and ran for 40 years, as the closest offering of a female Bond.

The overwhelming majority of comments however, conveyed a vehement disapproval of a female Bond. From the mind “Fleming didn’t write Bond as a woman, so it shant be so” or “James Bond is a British MAN who works for MI6, sleeps with a lot of different WOMEN and saves the world. And that’s the way it should stay” to “she would be seen as a nasty slut” or “the movies would be just about a female secret agent, who is a cold, anti social bitch, and has no love/friend/sexual relationships with whom whatever” and “what a lame idea, it will never see the light of day.” While this is a quick swath of an ardent fan base for one of the longest running cinematic franchises and biases are to be expected, what does the rest of popular culture have to say about female spies?

As the forum community was pondering what if, here were some of the mainstream headlines I found on the Internet from 2012 to 2015:

  • S.E. Smith of XOJane asked “Isn’t it time we had a female James Bond?”
  • Kelsea Stahler of Hollywood asked almost the same question, “Why isn’t there a female equivalent of James Bond?”
  • Jennifer Wright of The Gloss asked, “Why can’t we have a female James Bond?”
  • Victoria Coren humorously speculated in British GQ, “If James Bond were a woman..”
  • And, fast-forward to March and April of this year, British Labor Leader Ed Milibrand thinks that the franchise should get with the times and have a female James Bond. His choice was former Bond Girl Rosamund Pike, who played Miranda Frost in Die Another Day.
Humorous antidotes aside, our media oriented society has come to expect that the protagonist of the spy/espionage thriller will be an excellent shot with weaponry, a martial arts expert, equipped with advanced gadget technology (but not to the point of excess), travel to exotic locales, heightened sexual prowess, and of course, be a man (white man at that!).

What if all those abilities were wrapped up in a mature woman who, to all but a chosen few, is believed to be a “Miss Moneypenny” to the director of a covert, governmental agency, but is in fact, a Jane Bond? Ed Brubaker has penned a creator-owned story about Velvet Templeton, who is definitely no Girl Friday, the sidekick, the secretary, nor even the Bond Girl. Brubaker set out to break the stereotypical masculinized spy story by leading with a strong female protagonist rather than the typical male hero. The significance of this gender switch is revealed by understanding the historical positioning of women within stereotypical engendered roles in the spy genre, which served as Brubaker’s reference material for developing the back-story and characterization of his secret agent. Familiar gender tropes established most popularly by the Bond films will form the basis of comparing Brubaker’s comic book series currently in the second story arc. In addition, references to interviews with Brubaker will assist in teasing out his intentions and decisions for making Velvet the superspy she is in his series.

Part II will be posted soon, so please check back.

© Copyright. Michele Brittany. 2011 - 2015. All rights reserved. All text, graphics, and photos are protected by US and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without written permission.

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