Sunday, August 31, 2014

Black Beetle Vol. 1: No Way Out

by Francesco Francavilla

I've been a fan of Francesco Francavilla's art for some time now, but had decided to hold off on buying his Black Beetle mini-series, because the serial in Dark Horse Presents didn't really do a lot to impress me.  Now, having read No Way Out in hardcover, which also collects the DHP story, I'm glad I waited.

The Black Beetle is a pretty typical costumed noir crime fighter.  He has some specialized equipment, and a tendency to prowl around at night.  When he goes to bust up a meeting between rival mob families, he is surprised when the meeting place explodes, apparently killing everybody there.  As he tries to solve the mystery of who is behind the explosion, he soon crosses paths with The Labyrinto, a costume villain who dresses in a maze-themed outfit.

In a lot of ways, this book reminds me of Mike Mignola's Lobster Johnson, as much as he does characters like The Shadow.  Both central characters are essentially ciphers, giving away nothing about themselves over the course of the story, but the Black Beetle works alone.  That means that this story is very plot-driven, as he attempts to infiltrate an inescapable prison, explores abandoned subway tunnels, and sneaks into a heavily guarded wooded estate.  It's hard to care about the Beetle, because we don't know anything about him (when he goes undercover into a nightclub, he wears a different mask), and so Francavilla's art is left to do all the heavy lifting in the story.

The thing about that is that Francavilla is an incredible artist, and his choice of story gives him plenty of opportunity to show off the amazing and innovative layouts he's known for.  This is a gorgeous book, and that alone makes it worth buying.

I like the way Francavilla has sprinkled some clues and subplots throughout this story, to help set up future adventures for the character.  There's something about a hollow lizard, which an occult figure with access to a high-tech group of Nazis is after, and I get the feeling that as the larger story progresses, we will eventually learn more about the Beetle.

In the meantime, I'm happy with stories that are this visual, although I think sticking to the trade format, and reading them in one sitting, is the way to go with tales like this.

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