Velvet: The Importance of Setting & Tone [Close Read]
November 6, 2015
VELVET is set in the '70s, during the height of the Cold War. The Vietnam War was slowly winding down, the Berlin Wall is still up, and tensions are high all around. An old joke about setting stories in the past is that it's an easy way to avoid having characters call each other on cell phones and cutting out any dramatic irony or tension.
That's true, but more than that, using the past as a setting has a few advantages that the modern day doesn't. Researching the past gives us the advantage of hindsight when it comes to a setting. We don't just have to buy the party line when it comes to what happened. We can see the different angles, read about how certain actions resulted in other things happening down the line, or even just know that what was good then would not be great now. It opens doors.
It's almost like cheating, isn't it? But if you think about it, it's great, too. It leads to a fuller story, one with more options than something that's just "It was Us against Them, Americans versus Soviets!" In VELVET, Templeton must deal with the KGB, the CIA, and a host of bad guys who aren't ideologically united, but are united in one goal: to kill or capture Velvet Templeton.
The tone of VELVET is compressed and paranoid as a result. Templeton is on the run, so that's already a certain level of tension. The fact that she's being chased by her coworkers, men and women who don't know she's been framed, and enemies means that there is, quite literally, no one she can reliably trust. We spend a lot of time in Templeton's head, and we can see that tension working against her. She has to think at least two steps ahead, if not four, and everything she knows has been thrown into question.
That leads directly to how Brubaker & Epting characterize her. Templeton is capable, more than capable really, and while she knows what she has to do, she has to be circumspect about it. As a result, she comes off clever—she has plenty of witty rejoinders—but also reserved. She's not flashy, or wild, or even overly aggressive. She's more like an immovable object; she's focused on her goal and intends to let nothing stop her, no matter the lengths she must go to. She isn't cruel, but she is going to get her way.
If you like your espionage tales to have a measured pace with surprising eruptions of violence, if you like your heroes competent and inexorably driven toward their goal, if you like stories that take full advantage of their setting in order to build up a level of tension and mood that can't be beaten: you like VELVET.
VELVET is available in two collected editions (VOL. 1: BEFORE THE LIVING END and VOL. 2: THE SECRET LIVES OF DEAD MEN) and as ongoing single issues. VELVET #12 released this week, part two of an ongoing story. VELVET #1 is just $1.99.