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'Velvet' Mixes 'Tinker Tailor,' 'James Bond' and 'Mission: Impossible'

Ed Brubaker takes inspiration from James Bond's Moneypenny for his new Cold War comic book thriller.

Velvet Comp Art - P 2013
Steve Epting/Image Comics

Having successfully killed Captain America -- and brought him back to life again, of course -- writer Ed Brubaker finds himself playing with high-profile pop cultural iconography again in his new Image Comics title, Velvet.

"I had been watching a lot of old spy movies, reading a lot of nonfiction about the Cambridge spy ring of the '40s, '50s and '60s that inspired Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and the Smiley books," he said when describing the origins of the series. "[I] had the realization that all the women characters in those stories were really lame and weak. There was this kind of Moneypenny archetype in spy fiction -- the secretary who's in love with [the main character]. I just thought, what if that Girl Friday archetype was more like Modesty Blaise? What if she had a secret history, and was the most interesting person in that world?"

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Velvet, he said during a press conference this afternoon, is a "more straight-ahead version" of the super spy comic book that fans might be used to. "I wanted to find a way to bring a more realistic, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy element to that kind of over-the-top spy action thriller," he explained.

"I’ve read lots of spy novels, but I haven't read a lot where there is a female lead in the Cold War," the former Batman writer said about his choice of leading character for the series. "There’s an episode of [1970s British spy drama] The Sandbaggers where the main guy who runs MI-6 has to get a new secretary, and the whole point of the episode was to show that the person who becomes the right hand to the guy running the agency has to be one of the most qualified people. They're as knowledgeable about what the agency is doing as the director and, some times, more knowledgeable. They have to weed out the stuff he doesn’t need to know."

Set during the Cold War, Velvet follows Velvet Templeton, the secretary of the director of one of the world's leading intelligence agencies, as she tries to clear her name of the murder of the greatest spy on the planet by finding out who is really responsible. "To solve the murder mystery, Velvet has to retrace the steps of one of the world's greatest super spies, so a lot of the book is her going through the aftermath of where there've been Mission: Impossible scenarios or James Bond scenarios," Brubaker teased, adding that a theme of the series is "blowback and the consequences of things. We never see what happens to the Bond girl after she gives up her country’s secrets and he goes off to get on the Space Shuttle. We never see that girl again. What happens to her?"

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Velvet will see Brubaker rejoin his Captain America partner Steve Epting, who provides both pencils and inks for the series (Bettie Breitweiser provides colors). "I couldn't have done this book without Steve," Brubaker said of his partner, promising that the new comic will offer "something that wasn't superheroes but could appeal to the same fans" as their earlier collaborations.

Recently, Brubaker has been splitting his time between comics -- Fatale, his horror series with artist Sean Phillips, has been published by Image since last year -- and screenwriting, with two television pilots sold to networks last year. One of those, he said, was "very similar" to Velvet, "and what I got back [from executives] was 'Oh no, no. We can't do a show about a woman in her 40s.' They pretty much wanted me to turn it into Moonlighting instead, and [asked] could she be 25." That experience, he said, "made me want my comics to feel more like comics and use that language more, if anything."

Velvet will be released in print and digitally Oct. 23.