Graphic Novels from Brubaker & Co., Ricard, and Wood | Xpress Reviews

Week ending August 1, 2014

starred review starBrubaker, Ed (text) & Steve Epting & Bettie Breitweiser (illus.). Velvet. Vol. 1: Before the Living End. Image. 2014. 128p. ISBN 9781607069645. pap. $9.99. Rated: M. MYS/ACTION
velvet080114Brubaker’s latest espionage thriller is packed with assassinations, duplicity, and conundrums, just as any good spy novel should be. He pens the tale of a James Bond Miss Moneypenny–like character, who, unbeknownst to most of her colleagues, is more like Emma Peel or James himself than a simple clerk in a skirt. Velvet Templeton has long since retired from the field, but when she discovers something amiss in the investigation into the killing of top agent XO-14, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Someone in the supersecret ARC 7 office is already two steps ahead of Velvet, though, and she soon finds herself framed. Her only recourse is to flee so that she can use her skills and contacts to follow XO-14’s trail in order to uncover the true traitor. Epting’s artwork skillfully captures both the characters and action, with particular attention to Velvet’s acrobatics and hand-to-hand combat, while Breitweiser provides suitably moody colors.
Verdict It’s no surprise that this is already a New York Times best seller. The creators have crafted the graphic novel equivalent of a big-budget spy movie of the early 1970s, complete with gadgetry, exotic locales, and mysterious characters, all led by a beautiful but deadly agent.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Ricard, Anouk (text & illus.). Benson’s Cuckoos. Drawn & Quarterly. 2014. 96p. ISBN 9781770461383. pap. $19.95. COMICS/HUMOR
This French import mashup of a funny animal office comic and missing-person story loses something in translation. Richard is hired by Mr. Benson, the head man at a cuckoo clock company, to replace George, who simply disappeared one day. Everyone at the company acts strangely, all the way from purely inappropriate to bizarre. Richard plays the straight man, or duck, in this case, but he is unable to make sense of the nonsensical behavior of the other characters, particularly Mr. Benson. It eventually becomes apparent that some of the office workers have kidnapped George, as they begin to nab other coworkers as well, though the plot that George is alleged to have uncovered is never very clear. The artwork, which looks like a student’s doodles, matches the story’s level but does nothing to lift this work.
Verdict The sheer oddness of this tale never comes across as funny but simply weird. There aren’t enough details in the office plot to add interest. Lacking both humor and a driving force behind the narrative, the entire thing falls flat.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Wood, Kay (text & illus.). The Big Belch. Kay Wood: CreateSpace. 2014. 114p. ISBN 9781483994147. pap. $12.99; ebook available. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Under fire for an offshore ecological disaster, a major oil conglomerate (creatively named “Big Oil”) funds the development of an experimental organic cleanup method. The untested bacteria, though, hides the potential for worldwide environmental catastrophe. Enter our heroes, a pair of middle-aged hippies who find themselves in a race against time and human nature to keep the planet from going up in a methane-fueled chain reaction. A pointless subplot about smokable fertilizer, an excess of dialog-heavy exposition scenes, and the inclusion of talking animal sidekicks all clutter up what might have been a catchy story. Wood’s sketchy, expressive style makes for an interesting-looking cast of characters, but she displays some real technical weaknesses in action scenes.
Verdict This work violates one of the fundamental rules of graphic novels: show, don’t tell. Not recommended.—Neil Derksen, Pierce Cty. Lib. Syst., Tacoma



  1. Hello!

    The subtitle for Velvet is “Before the Living End,” not “Dead.” Thanks!