This is a continuing multiple post discussion of Ed Brubaker’s comic book spy story, Velvet that started last year and is its second story arc of the series. I gave a presentation at Wondercon last year on the series and am revisiting and updating my paper. You can find Part I post on Wednesday June 3, 2015 and Part II post on Tuesday, June 9, 2015.
Velvet Templeton: Eight Years In the Making
One could say that Ed Brubaker was groomed for writing Cold War era dark noir. He grew up living on military bases and his father worked in Naval intelligence from the 60s through the 70s. His father was a big fan of spy movies and he always took Brubaker to see the Bond films. Brubaker had an interest in Hollywood that was cultivated by the fact that his uncle was a rather famous screenwriter during the 40s and 50s, which was the height of film noir. Seeing his uncle’s bound screenplays were an inspiration to Brubaker to want to become a writer, as well as creating a deep seeded interest in the era. One has only to look at Brubaker’s output over the years to see the result of his fascination with noir and the Cold War. It was about eight years ago as he was writing Criminal that Brubaker conceived the idea of Velvet.
He studied several sources as he developed Velvet’s character and back-story. He read non-fiction 50s and 60s spy stories as well as spy fiction greats Ian Fleming and John Le Carre. In addition, he referenced Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise (1963 – 2002) comic strip, the television show Mission: Impossible (1966 – 1973) and femme fatale Black Widow from S.H.I.E.L.D., introduced in 1964. From these sources, stereotypical women’s roles were revealed: the Girl Friday, the femme fatale, the object of desire, the damsel in distress, and the sidekick. Brubaker said in an interview, “I kept thinking that the female characters were way more interesting than the creators would let them be. I started to build Velvet and when I figured out her backstory, I felt like she was really powerful – especially in a world where women weren’t allowed to be that powerful” (Comic Book Resources, July 9, 2013, “Brubaker Prepares for Cold War Espionage in ‘Velvet’”). He felt that writing about a male spy like James Bond would have been boring and hence he was more interested in the story that the women could tell instead. In particular, Brubaker wanted to explore the inequality of treatment and differing views between men and women via the spy narrative. What better way than to take one of the stereotypical portrayals of women as a starting point?
Brubaker took on the Girl Friday character because he could place her in the best position – assistant to the director of a secret agency where she would have access to highly sensitive “For Your Eyes Only” information. While being a secretary typically has negative connotations, Brubaker felt someone in the Miss Moneypenny’s type of position would have had to be very intelligent and analytically minded to evaluate top-secret reports. And, she was probably smarter than the director she supported. He then went a step further with his development of Velvet. In another interview, he said he thought, “what if His Girl Friday was actually an ex-field agent? And it’s like, ‘well why isn’t she in the field anymore? What happened to her?’” (Geek News, July 11, 2013, Image Expo: Ed Brubaker Talks Femme Fatales, Cole War Spies, and More). What happened in Velvet’s past that would cause her to hang up her pistol and take a desk job to become the personal assistant to the director of a covert intelligence agency? And what would happen if she had to face that life again?
Morality and sexuality were two other aspects of gender difference that Brubaker wanted to explore through Velvet. He wanted to convey that “she’d have a whole different view on morality and what she’s willing to do with her body, probably a completely different view on sex than an average housewife back then would’ve had” (Comic Book Resources, July 9, 2013, “Brubaker Prepares for Cold War Espionage in ‘Velvet’”). While filmic Miss Moneypenny was given limited screen time with only a brief flirtatious interlude with the hero, Velvet would provide the reader with insight into a liberated woman’s perspective. It was also an opportunity to expose the sexual double standard that existed then and as the forum comments I opened with in Part I suggests, it’s still considered normal for a male spy to have many sexual encounters for pleasure and for obtaining secret information, but for a female spy engaged in the same behaviour, she would be considered a slut.
In Part IV, I’ll discuss Velvet’s story in the first story arc, “Before the Living End” (Issues #1 – 5).
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