If there’s an award for “fastest growth into a new creative medium,” I think Francesco Francavilla’s “The Black Beetle: No Way Out” #2 (and the first issue as well) would be strong enough to make him a contender. Readers have known for years now that Francavilla is an excellent artist; now, he’s shows that he’s a good writer, too.
After a slightly uneven script in his first “The Black Beetle” stories (collected as #0 and originally printed in “Dark Horse Presents”), “The Black Beetle ” #2’s story is strong and shows us that last month’s opening chapter wasn’t just a fluke. I like the Black Beetle’s internal monologue here; it feels much more lively and less ponderous, and there’s a great sense of humor in it as well. It’s hard to keep from laughing at the mention of, “the unlikely event of a water landing” when you see what he’s got to save himself from that sort of thing, and it’s that smart attitude that keeps the comic peppy.
The plot itself is fun, too; creations like Labyrinto are both interesting and visually arresting, and I like how the Beetle gets himself out of problems not only with his tools but also his wits. This is just the right mixture of the superhero, crime, and adventure genres; almost as if you mixed “Indiana Jones” and “Hellboy” in a blender and “The Black Beetle” slid out by way of response.
But the art… oh, the art! It’s just breathtaking, with little details like police crime tape managing to stand out without being flashy, or the rubble from a building caught up in an explosion all carefully rendered in a way that serves both as background and something to examine more closely when you come back for a second read-through. Even the little touches like the soft red glow coming from an abandoned subway station in Colt City is attention-grabbing, and that’s before the carefully just-off-kilter panels from when the Beetle climbs down an old ladder into the depths, or way that panels tumble with the Beetle into a nest of rats. There’s so much care to every page to help tell this story in a strong visual manner that it’s a reminder of just how good Francavilla is at this sort of thing. The gentle upwards slant of the panels as the Beetle ascends to the surface, the twelve-panel “getting ready” sequence and their tight focuses on small moments, the charming logo at the end of the intermezzo halfway through the comic. Francavilla is an artist’s artist, and the end result is nothing short of exquisite. “The Black Beetle” is the sort of comic where you hope that we’ll eventually see an oversized hardcover edition, because you’ll want to pore over every single line.
Every time you read “The Black Beetle: No Way Out” #2, you’ll notice a little something extra that might have slipped past you the first time. It was on the third or fourth time through myself that I realized the truth: I’m hooked. Any doubts I had before have been dashed; Francavilla’s not just an excellent comic artist, he’s a great comic creator in general. Here’s to a lot more of “The Black Beetle” in the months and years to come.