The Black Beetle #1 – Crawling through underworld pulp

Francesco Francavilla has drawn a number of mainstream books over the last couple of years, including Detective Comics, Black Panther and Captain America and Bucky. He has spent a long time working on the indy companies, with an extensive cover gallery. This is a creator owned work with Francavilla providing the script and the art, allowing full narrative control. He brings about the world of pulp fiction to the comic pages. The words pulp and film noir seem to bring wide variations in definition but ultimately the subject material is cynical, unspoken and sometimes erotic or supernatural. It lives in the underworld, covered in shadows and broken whispers. The heavy monologue is often typical within these art forms and people are often down on their luck looking for redemption. In this case Black Beetle is a hero with a low key and mysterious name, perfectly apt for the world of pulp. We know little of him, except that he is a very confident, superb crime fighter with a useful array of weapons, but no obvious superpowers. His enemy are the gangsters of Colt city and I imagine his voice is gritty, full of base, and deadly serious. And his adventure is just beginning.

Black Beetle imageIt is common to discuss how the art and dialogue form the narrative, but when both are by a single person, it is usually inseparable. The script is firmly focused on Beetle’s perspective and there are many thought boxes throughout. Not that you notice as the personal monologue is very well drawn and quite compelling. His adventure is full of espionage and action, with few conversation pieces. It is your own personal opinion whether this detracts from your enjoyment but, to be honest, this is a book of style. It has its own theme and Francesco had developed a fantastic narrative based on his artistic temperament. The book is dark. The single page shot of Black Beetle is impressive as we see shades of black defining his outfit and posture. His eyewear is bright orange together with his chest symbol of the beetle, but the light appears to reflect with an orange tint on his arms and weapons. It is an impressive shot of our protagonist full of detail in the dark. The colouring is focused around orange, blue and yellow. The effect works well in showing the dark of the night, over the streetlamp highlights of people’s faces. It creates a glorious atmosphere befitting of the murderous deadly alleyways.

Black Beetle Flyer

The espionage and action is taken from varying angles. On page four we see a reconnaissance shot through Beetle’s orange lens, and the panel shapes seem to flow through his movements. Beetle fires his weapons, we see them fly through the air, and then strike his foes in a smoothly flowing style. There are incredible panel sequences where the central figures moves away or towards the reader. It gives a masterful effect of movement towards a still first person camera, especially when black beetle falls across the page and downwards at the same time. Francavilla clearly has honed his craft and creativity with this book, and it succeeds on a style perspective. This is a cool book and I really like the mid 20th century lobby cards promoting the issue and the end. I await the plot to develop, as it has a firmly grounded base for premier issue, with its head in the sardonic milieu. You can buy this book just for its stylish narrative, but for it to really excel the story needs to capture the essence of the world it inhabits. It is a fantastic first issue and we are even treated to a surprise twist ending, as you would expect with a good guy down on his luck.

“A few fractured ribs never killed me.” 9/10

1 comment

  1. good review..I think I will pick this up if I can find it again..sounds like my kind of book and the art reminds me a bit of Mignola’s ..

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