HOT READS: SPY COMICS
It’s been a long time since the first installment in 2001 of my favorite espionage themed graphic novels, Greg Ruka’s Queen and Country. Inspired by The Sandbaggers—A British TV series from the late ‘70s—Queen and Country detailed the missions of minder Tara Chace, an operative of the Special Operations Section of SIS, along with those of her fellow agents. Like The Sandbaggers (if you are an espionage fan and haven’t seen this seminal series, waste no more time), Queen and Country focused not just on the action in the field, but to also realistically believable dangers to the agents from the bureaucracy and politics of their organization.
A couple of years ago, I reread the entire Queen and Country series when it became available in digital form via Comixology. I still enjoy holding physical comics in my hands, but unlike many, I have no issues reading them on an electronic screen. Having refreshed my enjoyment of Queen and Country, I began to cast around for other espionage related tales in the current crop of comics, and found several noteworthy entries.
The first issue of the retro-spy series Velvet, written by Ed Brubaker with art by Steve Epting, had just been released and I immediately requested a monthly pull via my local comic shop. Since discovering him through his work on the brutal/noir crime comic series Criminal (art by Sean Phillips), I will read the back of a cereal box if it is written by Ed Brubaker. If you haven’t read Brubaker’s other current series, The Fade Out—set in McCarthy era Hollywood—you are missing out on a great noir tale. But, back to spies…
Velvet begins when the world's greatest secret agent is killed. All evidence points to Velvet Templeton, the personal secretary to the Director of the Agency. But Velvet's got a dark secret buried in her past—because she's also the most dangerous woman alive.
The character of Velvet Templeton is Modesty Blaise garnished by Emma Peel—with a white streak in her long hair that channels Elvira… Set in the early ‘70s, Velvet is chock full of everything that made the world of Bond, U.N.C.L.E., Secret Agent, Mission Impossible, and I Spy so vibrant for many of us as we were growing up. Easily my favorite monthly comic, Velvet doesn’t simply mimic the ethos of those great spy shows, but adds new layers and twists all its own.
Recently, I wandered into the world of Black Bag, written by Chris Roberson with art by JB Bastos. After blowing through the first issue, I immediately downloaded issues 2-4 to catch up with this espionage tale reminiscent of the underrated 1996 movie, The Long Kiss Goodnight starring Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson—only without the amnesia angle.
Black Bag introduces Renear a suburban housewife with a criminal past and a thirst for adrenaline. When her actions thwarting a coffee bar robbery she catches the eye of an intelligence agency director and quickly finds herself with a top-secret side job: carrying out the government's most dangerous missions.
Renear is tired of playing by the rules. A valedictorian and top athlete in her younger years, she's sacrificed a promising career to tie the knot and play house. Now she’s wondering if there isn't more to life? And there is—if she’s willing to take the shot and find out what she is truly capable of doing. Black Bag isn’t quite on par with Velvet, but it has a different vibe and is worth checking out.
For a very different vibe, and a hell of a lot of fun, there is Scarlett Couture—created, written, and illustrated by Des Taylor. Beautiful. Intelligent. Deadly. Scarlett Couture is all of these things, and much more…Using her cover as Head of Security for her mother's internationally renowned fashion house, she gathers intelligence for the CIA. However, gathering intelligence, is way too tame for Scarlett who follows her instincts right into the middle of the action, needing all her wits and high-end skills to stay alive.
Des Taylor’s writing keeps the atmosphere of Scarlett Couture light and lightning fast, while his excellent art is stylized and vibrant—a pop art explosion of primary colors, gloss, and sharp edges. His covers in particular stand out from everything else of the comic store shelves.
If Baywatch had spun off a television series about beautiful female lifeguards who double as spies (Baywatch: Spies), you would have some idea of what Scarlett Couture is all about—a fun romp with big guns and beautiful women kicking butt in haute couture gowns and high heels.
With Mission Impossible, James Bond, and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. gracing the big screens this past year—along with Melissa McCarthy’s espionage parody Spy and the over the top Kingsmen (closely based on the comic book series, Secret Service, which is also worth tracking down)—Velvet, Black Bag, and Scarlett Couture also capture all the elements that made spying fun before John le Carré put a damper on the party by creating the deadly somber, Spy Who Came In From The Cold.