Indie Comic Review: Black Beetle #1

The Black BeetlePart pulp hero, part diesel punk, Francesco Francavilla’s new series Black Beetle is poised to be the must-read book of the year.

Black Beetle’s investigation of two local mob bosses is interrupted when a mysterious explosion murders them and a pub full of gangsters—taking out most of Colt City’s organized crime in one fell swoop. Who could pull off such a coup, and what danger might that murderous bomber do to Colt City and Black Beetle?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.  Francavilla’s art is fantastic  He creates a city full of atmosphere and deep shadows, sticking to a basic palette of black, grey, and red, punctuated by blasts of yellow and white.  His linework is bold and confident, giving his characters a presence on the page that is undiminished by the deep blacks and murky corners of Colt City.

The action is fast, furious, and gorgeous to look at.  I can only hope that this comes out in an oversized edition eventually because each page is a work of art.  All of the words, narration, and color could be removed and the story would still work.  Frankavilla’s art and storytelling is that good!

Francavilla’s design for the Black Beetle is deceptively simple.  He is dressed in black from head to  toe with only the red scarab-like emblem on his chest and the rose-colored lenses of his eye protection punctuating the outfit.  the look is at once iconic and timeless.  The Black Beetle’s appearance is just as at home in the 1940s as he would be in modern day.

Now let’s get to the question mark: the writing.  Not ever illustrator makes a good writer.   But Francavilla proves that some artists can be outstanding writers by delivering a strong debut story.  He drops the reader into the action, giving just enough information to allow the reader to understand what is going on, but does not wallow in the exposition.  Even with the narration boxes the story flows freely.

Francavilla leaves the identity and the motivation of the main character for another time, instead focusing on the action.  This flies in the face of modern convention where most writers feel that they have to reveal identities and motivation before they can reveal the hero.  By turning it on its head, Francavilla is showing that the hero is the icon, not the motivation and backstory.  This is something so many writers forget, and instead spend time layering on backstory, ret-cons, and tragedy in an attempt to make a character interesting.  Francavilla has simply created an interesting looking character who acts in an interesting manner, and placed him in an interesting story.  The end result: an entertaining story which delivers from cover to cover.

Black Beetle #1 is out today from Dark Horse.  Click here for a 10 page preview! There is also an issue #0 which collect the three-part short story from Dark Horse PResents.  It is not necessary to understand anything in this issue, but it is an entertaining read on its own.  Pick that up as well if you can!

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