For as long as anyone can remember, espionage action and beautiful women have seemed to go hand in hand in fiction. In modern times this is clearly shown with the advent of pulp novels in the early part of the 20th century into the 1960’s, when those novels became the inspiration for many films and TV shows of the Cold War era. The most famous of these is, naturally, James Bond (whose “Bond girls” are almost as famous as the spy himself). But there were other franchises which followed this mold before and after (such as Simon Templar/the Saint or Matt Helm), and by the mid to late 1960’s the often livacious women themselves were starring (or co-starring) in the adventures instead of merely being the hero’s girlfriend. The archetype for these sorts of heroines may be Emma Peel (played by Diana Rigg) from 1961’s “The Avengers” but other examples include films such as “Fathom” in 1967 and naturally TV shows of the 1970’s such as “Charlie’s Angels”. While these heroines are often dangerous and capable, their beauty and some degree of eye candy (sometimes called “fan service”) is often presented in a “tongue in cheek” manner. Such premises continued into the 21st century with syndicated fare such as “V.I.P” (1998-2002) and “She Spies” (2002-2004), and even the kid-friendly “Totally Spies” animated franchise (2001-2014). It is with this history in mind that one can appreciate Des Taylor’s new comic book franchise with Titan Comics, “Scarlett Couture”.
An illustrator based in the U.K. whose clients have included the late Michael Jackson as well as magazines such as Cosmopolitan, he’s been selling prints of famous ladies for years both online and at comic book conventions. Now he’s writing, drawing, and coloring his first creator owned comic book series catering to his particular style and taste. This includes beautiful women, a sense of “old school” class combined with contemporary action. The first issue of “Scarlett Couture” debuted last April, and the entire four issue mini series was collected into a hardcover collection at the end of December. As exciting as the individual issues may be, it becomes a far more satisfying summer blockbuster when offered as a complete arc.
Subtitled “Project Stardust”, this four issue saga naturally serves as an introductory story for the series’ lead heroine, Scarlett Eve Carver, as well as the unique world of “spy modeling” that and inhabits. The daughter of a beat cop and a high ranking spy director, on paper Scarlett is the head of security for the fashion empire “Chase Couture”. In reality this is cover for her real job as a CIA operative alongside fellow agents Spencer Kelly and Trent Wayland. Yet things go even deeper as “Chase Couture” is in reality part of an entire sub-division of the CIA called the “Covert Investigations Group” (CIG) which includes using models as spies with Couture serving as both a public face and front for them. Although rarely chronicled by most well known historians, women have always been part of both warfare and espionage, and the idea is that models and others involved in the fashion industry can often get close to the elites who plan nasty things as well as be able to get to secure locations through misdirection and underestimation. What begins as a seemingly simple attempt to rescue several of their models-slash-spies who have gone missing, Scarlett quickly stumbles into a plot involving casino mogul Dante Ramon (and his vicious henchman Covan), the CEO of a major defense contractor, a hit man named “Black Jack”, and even Scarlett’s long lost brother! By picking up the trail of her fallen comrades alongside her “tech girls” Kelly Garcia and Cladia Wang, and even utilizing fellow “model spies” dubbed “Sapphire and Stone”, Scarlett gets wind of a major terrorist attack set for Las Vegas using a secret weapon which was believed buried since World War II. Along the way, Scarlett has to deal with tensions between her divorced parents as well as between Spencer and Trent which involves her own past. This results in fast paced action set pieces in warehouses, high class hotel parties, and even several fathoms into shark infested waters!
With plenty of martial arts, gun-play, underwater scuba duels, one-liners and explosions, “Scarlett Couture” reads very much like the sort of Hollywood and special ops pop pieces that serve as its inspiration. Scarlett herself is naturally everything one would want in a lead heroine in a work such as this. She’s young and experienced yet not a master at her craft just yet, often mixing her honed training with a sense of impulsive risk taking. She is deadly in a bikini, high heels, or a standard black ops outfit. Scarlett naturally is at the center of a very fantastic (and dangerous) world, but she is also trying to find her place in it beyond the shadow of her mother, Chase Elizabeth Carver. As a “by the book” mentor, Spencer usually is the foil to her more daring execution of their missions, often chastising her for relying more on luck than planning. Trent, by contrast, is more of a dashing peer who embraces his role as her sporadic partner. Scarlett’s other assorted sidekicks provide side-banter, and the villains are as one dimensional as one would expect in most popcorn action flicks. Covan, in particular, earns his fate.
Although this is hardly a satire, playing the adventure straight, it also has enough of its tongue firmly in its cheek to prevent it from being pretentious or dull. Des Taylor includes enough real life spy terms or real history to give this world enough of a solid foundation that his more over the top details fit in seamlessly. His artwork includes clean lines, smooth figures, and a fantastic sense of flow and cinematic pace. He easily could be involved in major designs for animation studios with his style and fashion sense. In fact his only flaw is in the fact that he often strives to make his cast (male and female) look as attractive as possible that it becomes difficult to accept their actual ages. Chase Carver is supposed to be pushing 60, yet looks little different from the younger women in their 20’s aside for gray hair and perhaps an “age line” or two. At the very least, this is a dilemma which occurs with male characters such as Spencer or Trent; they’re both in their late 30’s to early 40’s yet appear to look far younger. Des Taylor has no problem with “obviously old” men like Scarlett’s dad Jack Gillis or one aged witness, but anyone between their twenties or ancient seem to struggle to reasonably show their age. In fairness, this is a dilemma which most comic book artists seem to have, especially when compared to someone like Steve Epting from “Velvet” (where a woman who is middle aged is allowed to appear both athletic and mature). It merely gets distracting when Spencer or Trent are stated to be old enough to have been agents when Scarlett was a teenager, yet they look young enough to be her classmates.
At any rate, “Scarlett Couture” is a dynamite thrill ride for fans of James Bond or other similar spy fare. If one likes lovely but dangerous women having world shattering adventures in a variety of locations within worlds which are neither comedies nor tragedies, this collection (priced at $19.99 for 112 pages) is one to pick up! Scarlett’s story is only beginning, and this arc makes a fantastic jumping on point for it.