Pulp Corner: The Black Beetle #1
If you’ve ever read any of my other reviews you know that I mostly read trade paperbacks. I don’t have the patience to read a single comic book that takes 15 minutes to get through and then having to wait a month for the next installment. Every once in a while though I’ll find an exception to that rule.
One morning a few weeks ago, I woke up with a text from Martian Luthor Kang that had this picture.
I obviously needed to know more and fast. What I found out was that Dark Horse had just put out a new series called The Black Beetle by writer and artist Francesco Francavilla. Dynamite Entertainment has been responsible for the recent boom of pulp comics but Dark Horse has been no stranger to it with the likes of Blacksad and the Goon which are chuck full of pulpy goodness.
I missed out on a #0 issue that collected Dark Horse Presents #11-13 which paved the way for our costumed hero and has since sold out. You best believe Biff wasted no time getting down to the local comic store to secure issue #1 and was pleased he did.
Right from the cover, I liked what I was getting into.
I’ve always felt like a man displaced by time. When I was a teenager I always thought about the 1960’s and how great the music and culture was and wished I could have lived through it. As I get older and wiser, I keep moving further back in time from the 50’s to the 40’s. So when I take a look at something that has such a retro vibe like this, it feels right. Take a look at the top left corner and the way the word “The” isn’t properly spaced. To someone with OCD that’s a nightmare, to me it’s hard to explain but it’s exactly what I’m looking for.
Issue #1 kicks off a 4 part mini series titled “No Way Out”. Our hero is on the verge of taking out two crime bosses housed in the fictional Colt City. As he swoops into the club they’re meeting at, it explodes killing everybody inside. After some detective work and intimidation, The Black Beetle is able to trace a remaining nephew named Constantine whose tied to one of the crime bosses. The only problem is he’s in an Alactraz esque prison, put there under his own accord after the explosion.
The Black Beetle is able to confront him and it’s clear that Constatine is shaken and almost certifiable. He’s seriously scared for his life and muttering about him. Before The Black Beetle can pry any answers from him a cop shoots Constaine dead. Immediately the “cop” sheds his police uniform to reveal an all yellow costume with strange almost jigsaw esque markings on it. As the alarms go off the killer rapidly escapes leaving The Black Beetle to be subdued by the law.
It’s hard for me to review the story of a single issue since it’s clear that it’s a small part of a larger whole. It does a good job giving the basics and leaving you wanting more. We know The Black Beetle is a vigilante hero working outside the law. Hell, we don’t even get to see his face! (which I hope we don’t for a long time). There’s only one panel where he doesn’t have his mask on and his back is to us. His costume is almost a cross between Arthur from the Tick without the ears, mixed in with some Batman and even a bit of The Shadow.
It’s not the story that sells this first issue. It’s the art and the mood the art strikes. The book is filled with lots of black, dark blue and red. Colt City must be perpetually enveloped in darkness. All the cars are big and boxy and there’s even a panel with an old school plane with a map underneath it that made my heart flutter thinking it could be an homage to the Indiana Jones movies.
What started as sketches on the Pulp Sunday feature of Francesco’s blog, has blossomed into a critically acclaimed and much discussed new comic. The story I’m sure will pick up as the mini series continues but even if it doesn’t I’m still in it for the long haul. This is the art direction and vibe I’ve been looking for. The best part is, unlike it’s Dynamite contemporaries The Black Beetle is original. It makes new old again and that is a rare feat.
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