STORY BY Francesco Francavilla
ART BY Francesco Francavilla
Black Beetle is a tribute to noir style crime fighters. Although the case begins with the protagonist, Black Beetle, trying to take down a crime boss, the unexpected turn of events creates a hard boiled reactionary who-done-it. Because these scenarios are common in the violent and seedy world of pulp, Black Beetle had developed a paranoid sense to always “expect the unexpected”. Therefore, he consistently pulls out a new gadget that fits each unexpected occasion. Regardless, this doesn’t mean he’s the omniscient and impervious type of hero. We actively watch Black Beetle find and follow clues while taking a significant amount of damage, rather from a concussion blast or falling helplessly into a pit of man-eating rats and more bizarre situations which rely on equal amounts of luck and cunning.
When it comes to action, none can pack action into one panel like Francavilla. His mastery over colors and framing creates a superior amount of boiling tension and kinetic energy. For example, at one point he uses a retro style which uses shifting colors and onomatopoeia in the spreads for the Hard Way Fight. There are other points where Francavilla will creatively layer car chases or explosions over panels which also continues the explosive momentum. Towards the end he cleverly put the panels together for a jigsaw spread during the pulpy obligatory revelatory montage. Then, there’s The Beetle’s car. It will only have one illustration per issue, but the car combined with the beautiful use of light beams as motion lines and dust clouds and gravel spitting out of the panel makes its brief appearance a roaring pleasure.
Although the artwork is masterfully crafted and designed, a brief scan of each page clearly depicts this is a loving tribute to the minimalist style of noir comicstrips and pulp magazines. The tri-tone colors bleeding beyond the thick inky lines also retain that pulp magazine tone. In another nod to the classic heroes, Francavilla will use contrasting colors for characterization. Orange and black signifies the Beetle while yellow and black represents Labyrinto. Because there’s a minimal amount of detail in the background, what details he does give draws the eyes in to the frame almost prompting the reader to play detective and look for clues. Despite the minimalist comicstrip style, Francavilla’s art still brings Colt City to life. There’s just enough to give the impression a well placed bomb could make all its brick and mortar crumble into a pile of dust. Then to give Colt City’s night life a little more character he will sometimes illustrate music in the panels gutters. Every detail in every panel is thought-out and put there in order to establish tone and place.
For those who miss the stripped down and straight forward plots of Detective Comics, this is a new series which is worth shining a light on. Although it’s hard to talk about Francessco Francavilla without gushing over his art, the hard boiled plot, protagonist, and villain have just as much layers and details integrated as his art. Once the reader flips that final page, they are sure to go back to the beginning and start retracing every step through every panel.