Francesco Francavilla continues to deliver the goods with the stylized noir/pulp adventure series, The Black Beetle. What we’ve already fallen so hard for with the first outing, No Way Out Part 1, only gets better in the second, as the Beetle’s heroic investigations become all the more dangerous.
So what’s the rumpus? While there’s nothing staggeringly original here, for pulp fans, it doesn’t matter one iota! Francavilla chooses to simply follow the pulp formula we’ve become accustomed to, emulating Mignola’s Lobster Johnson, Cooke’s Catwoman, and Brubaker’s Fatale, and the result is hugely successful as the Beetle is just knock down drag out fun.
Not Francavilla’s first foray into the world of pulp fiction, having illustrated other black-clad heros of the night — Zorro, alongside writer Matt Wagner; and Black Panther with writer David Liss —with Black Beetle he has shown that he is very much aware of the expectations of pulp fans. Francavilla pulls out all the stops with cool costumes, high tech gadgets, guns, and of course, a slick car! Finding just the right blend of hard hitting action, nail bitting peril, and sinister mystery, Francavilla has created another great pulp classic.
With Black Beetle, Francavilla is definitely at the top of his game artistically. Since he has taken over the writing reins, he has freed himself up to fill these pages with his amazing brush work. With only the slightest hint of over indulgence, he deftly lays down just the right amount of moody bold blacks, highlighting them with liquid light splashes, and balancing them all out with a gorgeous color palette. His own brand of bold minimalism is on full display here, along with great page layouts — starting with the title page 2, and the awesome 4&5 double page spread, right down to the lobby cards at the end — illustrating perfectly the thirties pulp style that is so fitting for the series.
That being said, though the writing has allowed for great art, it is not without its faults. Though most of it can be overlooked as pulp fiction stylings, there are some minor pacing issues, and a few instances of redundancy, such as page 11 panel 5, where he narrates what the reader can clearly see illustrated (the matchbook and ring). The characters don’t feel quite as fleshed out as you might want, namely the villain, Labyrinto, but as his name suggests, I’m quite certain that’s intentional, and I’m sure there is an origin story waiting in the wings.
Like I said, however, all of this can be overlooked for the comic as a whole achieves what Francavilla surely set out to do — create another great pulp adventure series that leaves us begging for the next issue, and the hope that the series never ends.
Review — Black Beetle #2
By Jared W Lindenberg