Pulp Corner: The Black Beetle – No Way Out
Nothing on the shelves looks quite like Francesco Francavilla’s pulp crime fighter, The Black Beetle. As we wait for the second miniseries Necrolgogue to be released I thought we’d step back in time and take a look at the debut storyline, No Way Out.
A few months ago all 4 issues of The Black Beetle’s inaugural miniseries along with a zero issue (that was originally published in segments for Dark Horse Presents) were collected into a gorgeous hardcover and released.
The Zero issue serves as a interesting but curious introduction. Right off the bat we are told about a mystical artifact known as the hollow lizard which has ended up the hands of Dr. Atonia Howard in Colt City, the history of it being delivered in a gorgeous splash page. We also are made aware the Nazi’s are in hot pursuit of this item that is until the Black Beetle steps in to stop them. These aspects are not truly touched upon in the rest of the series with the exception of a quick 1 page intermezzo per issue. It seems they are setting the groundwork for things that will develop further down the road in subsequent series. You wouldn’t know this though the first time you read it and as far as establishing what the Black Beetle does it works. It gives you a little taste of what to expect.
Issue #1 starts off by giving us the background of two criminal families (Don Pasquale Galazzo and Joe Fierro) and begins to expand the role of Colt City as a character by fleshing out its inhabitants. The Black Beetle is about to raid a big meeting of these two crime families when the building explodes. When he goes to question one of the lone survivors who has turned himself in, he watches a cop kill him leaving the framed Black Beetle to be a apprehended. You can read an in-depth review of issue #1 here. The cop of course was no cop at all, but the mysterious Labyrinto. Who in my opinion has one of the most interesting and eye catching costumes I’ve seen in quite some time.
The Black Beetle is able to escape but goes to the scene of the explosion to see if he can find any more clues. What he discovers is a trap door of sorts that leads to an old underground railway system, once down there he finds a ring with I.G. engraved on it and a matchbook from Club Coco. What he doesn’t realize is that our friend Labyrinto has also returned to reclaim that ring and assaults our hero leaving him for dead. I won’t bore you with the details of his miraculous escape which you can read for yourself.
In a disguise The Black Beetle goes to the Joe Fierro run Club Coco to do some reconnaissance. He thinks he sees the dead Joe Fierro and ends up being taken outside and getting in a fight. This fight is one of the highlights of this book, it’s excellently choreographed with one of the most gorgeous panel layouts I’ve seen in quite awhile. After Fierro’s appearance this obviously raised some questions and The Black Beetle breaks into the morgue for some answers to find out that the corpse of Fierro was conveniently disfigured beyond recognition. Armed with this knowledge he travels to Fierro’s estate for some answers.
I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I will admit that while the reveal is cool it’s not one of the mysteries you could have ever figured out on your own. Which I think is a good analogue for this whole series. The writing and the story are fine…good enough to get by but it’s the art work here that people are buying this for and rightfully so. Francavilla really outdoes himself here. The entire series is drenched in shadows and the color palette a lot of his work favors dark blues, reds and yellows. He understands noir and treats this comic as a movie. In fact, the opening page of issue #1 announces that The Black Beetle is written and directed by Francesco Francavilla and it certainly feels that way. The panel lay outs give the comic a very cinematic feel.
Wisely Francavilla is smart to keep the dialogue at a minimum and let the art speak for itself. The splash pages throughout this collection are really something to behold, they are jaw dropping. As an author he gets that pulp heroes are often weird or perceived as such. That’s an easy element a lot of people tend to overlook with modernization’s of old characters. The Shadow may seem cool to us, but when you break it down in essence it’s very weird.
I tend not to be someone who cares about extras in a trade or DVD but for anyone who is a fan of The Black Beetle the trade is definitely the way to go. It collects basically every picture and image Francavilla has created up into the point of the character, with panel sketches early designs, lobby cards, etc. It’s a really a thing of beauty in a nice hard back collection. The second miniseries Necrologue is supposedly on its way, with numerous delays though it’s hard to tell when we’ll see it but it will be worth the wait.
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