“The Black Beetle” #0 by Francesco Francavilla is a fun, serious, beautiful and very well made comic. The atmospheric tale of a new ’40s pulp hero is high on ideas, action and authentic tone. This one-shot collects the three pieces previously printed in “Dark Horse Presents” #11-13.
There will be inevitable comparisons between “The Black Beetle” and another Dark Horse pulp, “Lobster Johnson.” While the books share similar traits — a moody lead, emotional art and a penchant for violence — the Black Beetle certainly holds his own as a worthy new creation in comics. The Black Beetle dispenses justice via his gun whether it’s quickly through the barrel or forcibly along the butt. This hero thinks and acts swiftly but he’s not adverse to shooting a German bad guy in the face to put him down for good. It’s exactly the no nonsense approach pulp is known for. Francavilla’s Black Beetle isn’t about nonsensical violence and he’s not in the business of being caught.
The story is straight forward, as such a self-professed “mystery novelette” should be for a zero issue. A special Nazi command has descended upon Colt City to steal an ancient artifact. The Black Beetle works to protect the item and the lady who currently curates it. The tale whizzes by with action set pieces for the Beetle to do his thing and then slower moments to expound character and plot. It is interesting watching Francavilla, as both writer and artist, structure pages. He isn’t afraid to drop plenty of six-panel, over-ten-caption pages while people stand still if it affords him a few breakout moments elsewhere to splash his art out for show. There are four splash pages and two dynamic, scattered double page spreads, where Francailla allows the mood and science of this story to cut loose. He obviously knows how to pace his story and gives himself room to make very pretty art.
Francavilla’s art is engrossing and well-placed. He knows how to lead the reader across pages and through narrative. The colors are spectacular as the issue opens with a purple homeless man suddenly beset by glowing red Nazi soldiers. Cut to the soothing and erudite calm of yellow as we are introduced to Dr. Antonia Howard. The scene dramatically cuts to black and then red becomes the palette again as the threat re-emerges. As the Black Beetle takes over the pages, the red of violence and purple of Colt City merge into something new. This man is an amalgam of both sides of the color palette. The best colorists use their palette to express mood and scene changes, and Francavilla is a master of his craft.
“The Black Beetle” has everything readers want from a pulp Saturday afternoon special. The hero is unique and shrouded in mystery, the plot is twisted and aching to grow into more, and the craft of both writing and art are spectacular. If you enjoyed Francailla’s work at DC then you owe it to yourself to get on this. “The Black Beetle” is a delightful slice of skewed madness from one of today’s finest artists.