- Series: The Black Beetle
- Hardcover: 152 pages
- Publisher: Dark Horse Books; First Edition edition (October 15, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1616552026
- ISBN-13: 978-1616552022
- Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.6 x 10.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #981,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out Hardcover – October 15, 2013
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Francesco Francavilla’s Black Beetle comics are some of those properties I’ll track down in the future. As graphic novels, though. I can’t see having to wait month to month, or even every two weeks for the new arc starting this month. I’d rather have the whole adventure in my hands.
The Black Beetle is, unashamedly, cut from pulp cloth. His adventures could sit right up there beside Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Spider, and the Avenger. He’s just a man in a costume equipped with some ahead of the times (1940s) technology that’s really cool. We don’t even know his secret identity, which is a riff right out of the Shadow. For years those fans didn’t know who the Shadow was because Lamont Cranston was just a false face the Shadow wore.
The first adventure really sets the tone as the Black Beetle goes up against Nazi soldiers trying to steal a mysterious lizard statue from the local museum. Of course, there’s a beautiful young archeologist already working on the statue when they break in. Truthfully, that whole episode smacked of an Indiana Jones adventure and I loved it for that. But it did lead me to believe that the Black Beetle was simply interested in archeological things and fighting Nazis. That’s not true.
The Mafia is also one of the Black Beetle’s targets, so he goes after all the bad guys. In the 1940s, with World War II in full bloom and lots of national crime in the United States, there’s a lot of crime to go around.
One of the neat things Francavilla does is show us the Black Beetle’s unmasked faces. We get to see him, more or less, but it doesn’t matter because we still don’t know who we’re looking at so the secret identity remains intact.
The thing I love most of all, though, is Francavilla’s artwork. The look of the 1940s, of the sewers, of the museum and the artifacts contained there, the style and dress of the people, the speakeasy the Black Beetle drops into to get information, all of these places could have come from film noir. Francavilla loves American pop culture and it shows.
The Black Beetle also goes up against his own costumed foe, and the battle of wits is well done. The final revelation, when the pieces all come together, is revealed cinematically too. The puzzle pieces behind the headshots of the Black Beetle and his nemesis are corny in one respect, but man do they fit the overall tone of the book!
Francavilla’s added materials in the back of the book are awesome as well. I loved the ashcans. They were like looking at advertising materials back from the heyday of Hollywood.
I’ve been won over by this book. It doesn’t break any new ground, it doesn’t go anywhere other books have not gone. The beauty is that it’s so familiar, like an old hoodie you pull on to lounge around it. This is comfort reading for pulp and comics and movie enthusiasts. Pick up a copy and enjoy.
And man, it is just tremendously smart and fun.
Plot-wise, this includes all of his to-date work with The Black Beetle, a mysterious blend of The Shadow, The Bat, and a number of other characters of the pulp era. It has the Zero issue, where he faces off against the Werewolf Korps of the Nazis for a mysterious artifact, and it has "No Way Out", a four-issue series where he investigates a mass murder of mob bosses in his town of Colt City (possibly a reference to Denny Colt aka The Spirit, or a reference to the twin sidearms he carries...). Eventually, this leads in large part to a villain calling himself Labrynto, a mystery man in his own right who is clad from head to toe in a maze-like bodysuit that seems to know exactly who is responsible for these deaths, and also trying to cause the death of our hero.
The writing may be a little dependent on the tropes of the pulp genre, but that's hardly a drawback. The plotting and dialogue is sharp and snappy enough to enjoy on its own merits. Where the book naturally stands out though is with the art. Francavilla does arguably his best work here, which makes this book even more of a standout from your standard fare from the Big Two publishers.
While The Black Beetle may seem familiar to those of us who treasure the Pulp era, Francavilla certainly makes him smart enough, fun enough, and entertaining enough to break from the comfort of mere familiarity and challenge some of your preconceptions about what you're reading. It's certainly the best book of its kind since Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM, and all in all, it's just a fantastic read.