You can view this as a review post or as recommendations for strong female characters in comic books. It wasn’t until I sat down to do this post that I realized all the main characters in the comics I’m about to discuss are women.
They are all strong, brave, independent badass fighters who do what they must to pursue their goals. Their backgrounds vary — spy, assassin, housewife, outcast, single mom — as well as their age. All of these were fun to read and I recommend them all to you.
This is a pretty long post so I will include jumps to each section. I considered breaking it up, but I prefer to present them all together.
Action, mystery; mature
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!
Many of you already know that I’m a fan of this comic book series because I’ve mentioned it often in a few tag posts. I decided to read the first issue, which I got at BookCon, because I wanted something light and fun and that’s exactly what I got with this action comic.
Once I started reading it, I was hooked. I read and completed the first issue on a Sunday and immediately visited a comic book shop that day to grab the first volume, which I gobbled up on my way to work the next day. I was so hooked on the story by then that at lunch I ran to another comic book shop to get the second volume and completed it on my way home from work. Now I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the third volume, which is slated to be out on September 21.
If you’re interested in spy comics with female protagonists, then I HIGHLY recommend this series to you. I also suggest that you go into it blind, as I did, because the less you know about Velvet, the better your reading experience will be. But, if you don’t care for the spoilers, read on.
Minor spoilers below.
Velvet, the story and the character, quickly grew on me. The story, which is set in the 1970s, reminds me of a James Bond or Jason Bourne flick except with a woman as the badass spy outwitting all her pursuers. Though we sometimes get to see what other characters are doing, the story is narrated by Velvet. In the first volume, she is framed for the murder of a spy who worked for the Agency. She immediately goes on the run to prove her innocence and to find who framed her. As we follow along on her adventures, she tells us what it takes to be a spy and how they operate.
Velvet is awesome. She’s observant, smart, confident, attractive, and resourceful. She reminds me of Donna, Harvey’s secretary in USA’s TV show Suits, because she knows everything about everyone at the Agency and is the best at her job. She is poised and graceful but can be chill when she wants. She is also a great fighter and does what she must to get what she wants, even if that means seducing and sleeping with a guy so she can peek into his files later.
As the story progresses, we learn more about Velvet’s past and learn why she became the Director’s secretary. In the second volume, she tells us about the leaders of her company, whom she considers as possible perpetrators of the murder she was framed for. She also bursts a former operative out of jail, but he eludes her as she allows her compassion for others to overshadow her better judgment.
The second volume was great as well but I think the first will always be my favorite. Though her consideration for others get in the way, I like how that is used to show that she is out of practice. I also love the hint that a larger game is being played and that maybe Velvet is being toyed with; and the new character, Damian Lake, is intriguing. He’s slimy but he makes me curious.
The art is the traditional graphic comic book style, which I’m not a fan of but it works well here. Epting’s illustrations are very detailed, which I love, but the faces of some of the men in the Agency are too similar so sometimes I confuse them if a name isn’t mentioned. I appreciate that the characters’ expressions are easy to discern and fight scenes are easy to follow. The colors tend to be dark to match the story’s tone and settings, which are usually cities and at night, and though there are lots of fight scenes and shoot-outs, there isn’t much blood and guts flying about.
The best thing about the illustrations is how Velvet is drawn. It took me a while to figure out that she’s an older woman, though the white streak in her hair should have been a giveaway (I’m slow sometimes). Female spies in TV shows tend to be young, in their 20s or early 30s, but Velvet is in her 40s, I believe, or older, and I love that. I really like that her age is hinted at with her hair and the color and shading on her face so you suspect she’s older but you don’t know for sure. I also love the full-page portraits of her that sometimes look like paintings.
I love this comic book and I can’t get enough. The story is strong and I am hooked on the mystery and the titular character. The art style is not my favorite, but I love how detailed it is and how Velvet is drawn. It’s one of the most entertaining comics/graphic novels I’ve read this year.
Action comedy; mature
Josie Schuller is a picture-perfect homemaker, wife, and mother-but she’s also a ruthless, efficient killer! She’s balanced cheerful domestic bliss with coldly performed assassinations, but when Josie finds herself in the crosshairs, her American Dream life is in danger!
“A level of violence that can only be described as Mad Men’s Betty Draper meets Dexter.” — Comic Book Resources
I had to leave in that praise from Comic Book Resources above because it’s a good description. If Betty Draper didn’t mind killing someone every now and then, well, she just might have been Josie.
After Velvet, I wanted another comic book with a strong female character who kicks ass and doesn’t give two shits what anyone thinks of her. I wanted Velvet, Vol. 3. I was tempted to buy the single issues, but I really don’t get on well with those so I picked up Lady Killer instead, which I’d bought on Free Comic Book Day.
Lady Killer is pretty similar to Velvet except the protagonist, Josie Schuller, is a 1950s housewife who moonlights as an assassin. (Aren’t these women awesome!) She tries to keep her job and family life separate while maintaining her status as a model housewife.
The story wasn’t what I expected. Because I read the introduction first, I expected a serious tone because the story seeks to prove a point by upsetting how women are usually portrayed in comics. It achieves this but does so with a touch of humor, like those random moments when Josie is upset that blood and gore was splattered on her skirt after a gruesome kill.
And that’s something unexpected — her gruesome murders. Josie is a model housewife who keeps her house, family, and person neat and clean, but she can throw a solid punch and when she kills, things tend to get messy. She brawls when she fights and prefers to stab to kill. I don’t feel like I learned much about Josie in this issue, yet I like her. I admire her composure and how adaptable she is. She can quickly adjust from being a dutiful housewife to working at a strip club to overpowering a man much larger than she is.
Josie kept my interest. As for the story, sometimes the plot was lost on me. I think I read it too quickly and judged it unfairly because the entire time I read, I was looking for another Velvet. I thought the story progressed too quickly, which is probably a weird thing to say of a comic book since all the ones I’ve read have progressed pretty quickly, but some of the characters’ motives were lost on me.
I did not understand why Josie’s organization wanted her dead: is it because her director thought she’s unfit because she’s a female assassin with a family, or is it that she’s become problematic because having a family gave her a conscience? I guess I’ll have to reread it slowly to find out. Also, the connection between Irving, the older guy who is introduced toward the end, and Mother Schuller was lost on me too. I definitely need to reread it.
I love the art. It’s more of a pop style with bright colors that jump off the page and grab your attention. The illustrations are great, especially of the cars (there aren’t many cars but I like what I see) and the characters’ clothes (I love Josie’s wardrobe), but I’m not a fan of the characters’ faces, which all tend to be very angular; however, I love how Josie’s body is drawn.
We can easily tell that she’s very fit, toned, and strong though she’s not rippling with muscles. And her body isn’t drawn to suggest that she is soft and curvy either. I guess wiry is the best word to describe her body. She’s lean, as if she goes to the gym every day. I really like that she’s drawn this way because women are often drawn to look soft and curvy even when what they do is physically taxing. Another thing I love about how Josie is drawn is her stature after a fight. She looks like a champ.
I also love the cover pages, which are illustrated to look like advertisements from the 1950s but with a twist. That adds a bit of humor as well. And the last pages are pretty cool. We get a peek at some sketches and notes the creators made about the story.
I love the artwork and the protagonist, but I read the story too fast so much of it was lost on me. I’ll have to revisit this one.
Also, I assume that this is first volume because it was not indicated on the book whether this is part of a series or a standalone. If it is a standalone, then it feels incomplete toward the end. I still have too many questions.
Sci-fi, western; teen
Welcome to Copperhead, a grimy mining town on the edge of a backwater planet. Single mom Clara Bronson is the new sheriff, and on her first day she’ll have to contend with a resentful deputy, a shady mining tycoon, and a family of alien hillbillies. And did we mention the massacre?
Still craving more Velvet, I then turned to Copperhead, which was recommended to me on Free Comic Book Day by a comic book shop employee. He loved the book so he recommended it to everyone. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, though, since westerns and sci-fi, in books, are my least favorite genres.
Though I wasn’t impressed by it, the story in Copperhead held my interest. The pacing is good and it touches on a variety of topics such as trust and family loyalty, culture clashes, immigration, and exploitation. The story is about living on the frontier and planting roots in an unknown land. The setting, which is a dusty planet with lots of open spaces, gives it a western vibe and the characters — sheriff and hillybilly aliens — further add to it.
Our protagonist, Clara, is a sheriff and a single mom. Like Velvet and Josie, she is strong, self-reliant, and resourceful. I love that the story begins with her showing she’s capable of handling things herself (even alien guys can be dicks). Not much is told about her past in this volume, but it seems that an incident occurred in her previous town that caused her to be reassigned to Copperhead with her son, Zeke. So far, humans seem to be a minority on Copperhead, which makes it odd that the sheriff is always a human.
One thing that kept my interest in the story was the underlying tension among the characters. A war had just occurred that pitted humans against aliens. Both species are mistrustful of each other but even more so of artificial humans, called “arties”. Clara seems to have something against the arties so I think her having to rely on one for part of this volume will carry greater significance later when we learn why she’s more mistrustful of them than others.
I’d say this story is more complex that the two comics above. The characters in this one have a lot more depth and the story has more development in its first volume than the ones above. Of the characters, Clara’s deputy, Budroxifinicus, a.k.a Boo, is my favorite. He’s so sarcastic, a total smart ass, and he makes small comments that make you wonder at the political dynamics of the world. There seems to be a lot of colonization going on. We don’t see the natives of Coppertown. Instead, we see the settlers and the natives are rendered mysterious and dangerous because we only hear of them from others.
Now that I think back on the story, I think it deserves a much higher rating than the 3 stars I initially gave it.
I’m not a fan. It’s really good, the illustrations are strong and clear, but the style isn’t one I like. I want to say it’s simple, but I don’t think that’s a good word to describe it because it’s sometimes very detailed. I guess it’s the setting I don’t like, which is sparse without much embellishment.
I do like how the characters are drawn, however, especially the artie Ishmael. Actually, I can’t tell if it’s the illustrations I love or how well the colors play off each other. Riley uses mostly contrasting colors throughout that make the characters, which are usually in bold cool colors if they are aliens, stand out from the lighter, warmer tones of their surroundings. Ishmael I like because his skin is a dark navy blue, almost black, that causes his eyes to look like they glow in the dark. In some of his earlier frames, he is shown with blood on his face, which looks really cool against his skin color.
The aliens are all…interestingly weird. They vary in color, texture, size, and types. There are the usual glob-looking aliens, and then there are others that are basically upright-walking, talking animals, like Boo.
As always, I enjoyed reading the end pages, where they included some of the development correspondence between the writer and the artist. I always appreciate these because we get to see how ideas for the story and the frames develop and what influenced certain parts.
Overall: ★★★★☆ 1/2
I bumped it up by one and a half stars because reflecting on the story made me realize how much is going on in it, which has made me curious about it. Initially, I didn’t plan on continuing with the next issue, but now I think I will. Art is a major factor for me when it comes to comic books. It’s hard for me to continue with the story if I don’t like the art, but the more I look at this one, the more it grows on me.
Epic fantasy; mature
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both.
I read the first issue of Monstress earlier this year and reviewed it on here as well. I enjoyed it so much that I grabbed the first volume when it was published in July.
Those of you who love fantasy novels will thoroughly enjoy this one. We are given complex characters, vast worldbuilding, and great art. All of this was hinted at in the first issue and I’m glad to see some things expanded on in this volume.
When I wrote my review of the first issue, I wondered at the complexity in the protagonist’s development. Maika has a ravenous power within her that makes her dangerous to her companions. At first, she doesn’t have a handle on the power and seems to black out whenever it feeds. I wondered if this will cause some difficulties for her and I’m glad that it does and in better ways than I imagined.
There is so much going on that I don’t even know where or how to begin discussing the story. Let’s see, umm… There was a war that pitted humans against the fey folk, which are descended from the gods. Fey folk resemble animals and have magical powers. On the human side are witches, which are called nuns, who also have abilities, which to me seems like a mixture of science and magic from the fey. It’s a time of relative peace when the story begins and both sides are separated and live in different lands, but there are still some conflicts and corruption on both sides (nuns and feys) as well as propaganda. Those in power want to maintain the separation between humans and fey.
I love how this volume ends because there is a reveal at the end that I expected but wasn’t sure about. Maika is mistrustful of others and despite being handicapped by having only one hand, she’s very self-reliant, strong, and determined in her pursuit of information about her past. I admire her, but I don’t like her. She’s too hot-headed sometimes; but I like how direct she is.
My favorite character is the little fox, Kippa, who tags along with Maika. (She’s so cute, I want to hug her.) I also find the monster within Maika very interesting. It has a personality of its own and is neither good nor evil. It simply is and it has a great hunger for things, mostly other creatures, human or otherwise. Its motives differ from Maika’s, though, so it will be interesting to see how their relationship works out later because Maika is very stubborn and I wonder what it is about the monster, apart from its great hunger, that makes others fear it so much.
Other things I like about the story is its vast history, which is relayed to us at breaks in the story by Professor Tam-Tam, a four-tailed cat. Cats are held in high esteem in this world. Also the characters are very diverse. It’s not just humans and creatures that resemble animals. The people are of a variety of shapes and skin tones and we don’t immediately know what their motives are. Those we assume to be enemies might be friends, or will at least help Maika, and vice versa. I also like the emphasis on eyes in the art work and that the majority of characters are female.
As I mentioned in my review of the first issue, I would like to see how far this story will go in its discussion of monsters and monstrosity and what makes one a monster. I like the points made thus far. The nuns use propaganda to paint the fey folk as monsters, making the people of their realm fearful and mistrustful of them. And Maika battles with a monster within her that seems to be a parasite because it needs a host. Its acts are monstrous because of its great hunger and because it lives within Maika, she is also seen as a monster. Maika has to then define who she is by what she does, though that is not yet apparent. I think it will be later though.
I love it. I like how the characters are drawn and the variety of faces, though they all have a softness to them. The illustrations are very detailed. I can get lost staring at some of the characters’ outfits as well as the designs inside buildings and on the chapter page of chapter five. There is also a map at the back that I love looking at too because of the details around its border.
The line work is great. I mention it because they stood out to me while I read, maybe because of the art deco influence on the art style. I especially like the wispy lines used to illustrate the old gods, which loom above the other characters. I like the effect because the lines seem to fade as the old gods also fade.
The color work is great as well. (Yea, every damn thing is great!) The tones tend to be dark and muted, which give an overall impression of constant twilight. I believe we see scenes that take place in daylight only three times. As mentioned before, there is an emphasis on eyes, which are placed everywhere — in the designs on items, on characters’ clothing, doubled and tripled on characters. I also admire the architectural illustrations and the design of characters’ clothing. At the end of the first single issue, we are given some of Takeda’s sketches of the characters.
I love it and I HIGHLY recommend it to all fantasy and cat lovers. 😀 The story and artwork are great and both immediately pull you into the story. I plan to continue with the series and am on the lookout for volume two. I might purchase the single issues because they are pretty thick.