Back alleys shrouded in darkness and long shadows cast by dim streetlights, all-night diners and wise guy gangsters, esoteric artifacts and Nazi secret agents: this is the world readers have come to associate with classic noir, and the world readers will find in writer/artist Francesco Francavilla’s “The Black Beetle” from Dark Horse Comics. With the release of “The Black Beetle” #0, collecting the three-part story “Night Shift” that originally ran in Dark Horse’s anthology series, “Dark Horse Presents,” on December 19 and the subsequent launch of “The Black Beetle: No Way Out” four-issue miniseries on January 16, Francavilla continues his impressive rise in the comic book industry. Francavilla nabbed the 2012 Eisner Award for Best Cover Artist as well as the 2012 Eagle Award for Favourite Newcomer Artist. He brings his signature graphic, pulp aesthetic to every panel of his developing series, eagerly sharing the process on his “Black Beetle”-centered blog.
In “Night Shift,” the masked hero finds himself confronting three members of Adolf Hitler’s Werwolf Korps. The Korps are after an ancient Egyptian artifact known as the Hollow Lizard, now in the hands of Dr. Antonia Howard at the Colt City Natural History Museum. Picking up shortly after the events of “Night Shift,” the “No Way Out” miniseries finds The Black Beetle confronting not only Nazi’s, but also local crime bosses and a new nemesis.
“We are still at a very early phase of the Black Beetle’s history,” Francavilla told Comic Book Resources. “We know he operates in Colt City and we know he is some sort of masked vigilante or hero. The events in ‘Night Shift’ span one night — We’ve learned what the Black Beetle is capable of, and where his ‘base of operations’ is located.”
The Black Beetle is a hero, to be sure, and he’s willing to take a bullet in defense of the innocent. However, he is not without his flaws, as hinted at in “Night Shift,” and Francavilla compares him to Humphrey Bogart’s character Rick Blaine in the 1941 film, “Casablanca.”
“[The Black Beetle] operates outside the radar of the law, which allows him to get information on criminal activity in Colt City and act accordingly, sometimes adopting unorthodox measures,” said Francavilla. “He is a hero, after all — not a perfect hero, but still a hero.”
At the conclusion of “Night Shift,” it’s also hinted at that the motivations driving the Black Beetle may be something other than simple altruism.
“There is something else going on more than just simply ‘protecting the citizens of Colt City,'” said Francavilla. “What is that ‘something else?’ That’s one of the major plot-points that we’ll discover a bit at a time through the next several issues in the series.”
The cast of characters introduced in “Night Shift” will return for The Black Beetle’s next adventure, and the plot will continue to thicken. Francavilla hinted at the continued influence of the shadow practitioners of the dark arts, the Black Priests, as well as the return of Dr. Antonia Howard. The Black Beetle will also face down a new enemy, Labyrinto, who appeared at the conclusion of “Night Shift.” With the new miniseries, Francavilla also takes the opportunity to explore more tropes from his favorite genre.
“A main goal I had for this book is to explore several genres of the pulps,” Francavilla explained. “‘Night Shift’ was a mix of spy-war story with some supernatural elements, while ‘No Way Out’ is more of a crime-mystery story.”
Francavilla cites the pulp and noir films and serials of the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s as direct influences on The Black Beetle, as well as classic pulp crime fiction writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The series is also clearly indebted to early masked-heroes like The Shadow and The Spider.
“I always loved the high entertainment value of those stories,” said Francavilla. “You didn’t need to know much going in except that some bad guy is going to do something bad and The Shadow or The Spider was going to take care of him. Same goes with the gangster or crime movies from that period: you were going in without any pre-conception or knowledge of the characters; getting to meet the hero (or anti-hero) during the movie, and deciding to like or hate him or her at the end. You probably thought you knew how the movie was going to end, but somehow the whole experience wasn’t as predictable as you thought. And that made it fun, entertaining. Hopefully I will be able to achieve the same effect with ‘The Black Beetle.'”
“The Black Beetle” #0 is on sale December 19 while “The Black Beetle: No Way Out” #1 (of 4) goes on sale January 16.