Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Black Beetle, Volume 1: No Way Out

 Francesco Francavilla is fast becoming one of my favorite Artists....but how does he stack up as a Writer?

 We find out, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics, with his latest creation, THE BLACK BEETLE, VOLUME 1: NO WAY OUT. And the answer is: He's pretty good.

 The Black Beetle takes place in the early 1940's, in the fictional Colt City, and despite the title character's costume, and a few other super-heroic trappings, this is pure noir. I recently reviewed Mark Waid's THE GREEN HORNET, VOLUME ONE: BULLY PULPIT, and bashed it as being too boring. Francavilla is covering the same ground here, but THE BLACK BEETLE manages to feel vital and exciting rather than moribund and turgid. In pure Pulp fashion, we are given nearly no information about The Black Beetle...he simply exists to fight crime. What else could we possibly need to know? The bulk of the story concerns the mass slaughter of most of Colt City's Mobsters in a huge explosion, and The Black Beetle's quest to expose the murderer, but there's a prologue story that concerns Nazis and a missing occult artifact that was equally satisfying.

 I didn't love this book, but I did enjoy it, and Francavilla's moody, expressive artwork really carried the day. His characters have weight and motion to them, and his action scenes really pop. I could do without him splashing his signature on nearly every page that contained action (The original art fetches more money if it's signed...), but that's a personal preference. This was a fun, fast-paced book, I was never bored, and it ends with the promise of more to come, and I'm OK with that.

 (On a totally unrelated note, I'm surprised that DC didn't challenge this book legally...I would think it was a little too close, name-wise, to their BLUE BEETLE character. But seeing what DC has done to the Blue Beetle over the past decade, I guess they don't really care about him all that much.)

  THE BLACK BEETLE, VOLUME 1: NO WAY OUT contains issues 1-4 of the miniseries, the one-shot that collected the DARK HORSE PRESENTS serial, and a plethora of extras, including sketches, lobby cards, poster art, and much more, as well as an introduction by Darwyn Cooke.

 Dark Horse provided a review copy.

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