The Black Beetle: No Way Out #1-4
Story and art by Francesco Francavilla
Dark Horse Comics, 2013
When Colt City’s two biggest mobsters set up a suspicious meeting on neutral ground, the masked vigilante Black Beetle makes a point of inviting himself to the party. But when a bomb explodes at the meeting, Black Beetle has a new investigation on his hands–one that is thwarted at every turn by another masked man.
In The Black Beetle, Eisner Award-winning artist Francesco Francavilla takes on writing duties as well to bring us a pulp noir adventure. Like many comics readers, I first encountered Francavilla via his stint on Detective Comics, where he split art duties with Jock during Scott Snyder’s acclaimed pre-New 52 run. As a result, I came into this read with very high expectations for the art, and Francavilla delivers on every page. His retro-influenced style–highlighted by a moody palette of oranges, reds, and purples–matches the pulp story perfectly, and Francavilla’s use of innovative page layouts is a treat. In issue #1, one page gives us the view through Black Beetle’s bug-eyed goggles; in issue #3, Francavilla places his panels betweens the lines of a musical score to take readers to a posh nightclub.
The accompanying story is solid, though not nearly as spectacular as the art. Francavilla offers a fairly standard hard-boiled tale. If you’ve watched any film noir or read pulp novels, you won’t find much to surprise you here. Francavilla executes the usual tropes well, but they are still the usual tropes. Also, while this adventure gave me a good sense of the Black Beetle’s crimefighter tactics and tools, it gave me very little sense of his identity beyond his masked persona. His personal stakes in the mystery felt low, and readers really have no idea what drives the Black Beetle to be a caped crusader for justice. (Perhaps this was revealed in the earlier miniseries?) That might be acceptable if you read this as the opening arc of what will hopefully be a longer ongoing series, but it makes the arc a little disappointing when read on its own. The whodunit aspect of the plot is fine, but it’s not enough of a hook to carry this book on its own.
Overall, this is a beautifully drawn comic, but I really hope that future arcs focus more on the characterization of the lead.
Review copies provided by Dark Horse Comics.