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Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Black Beetle. No Way Out. Francesco Francavilla (Writer & Art), Nate Piekos (Letters) . Dark Horse Books (2013)

Very entertaining and enjoyable crime story with a costumed (but not super powered) crime fighter and a nice hint of something supernatural going on at the margins. In 1941 Colt City is a city with gangsters, crooked cops, Nazis and mysterious crime fighter, The Black Beetle. After a smart set up that introduces but does not explain the Black Beetle, it hints at an international background in more than simple crime fighting, the main story kicks off.
After a planned meeting of two powerful gang leaders end with an explosion, the Black Beetle investigates who is gaining by their deaths. When a visit to the local island, high security prison ends badly and a visit to the site of the explosion is nearly fatal, the Black Beetle follows a new line of investigation. The story moves fast, the action is physical and very well set up, the climax is satisfyingly loud.
This is very specifically a mystery , crime story with a detective as the lead, he follows clues and conducts an investigation both in costume and in disguise. The emerging enemy, Labyrinto, is also costumed with the intent of being disguised as well as sending a clear message. The mystery is nicely developed, it does not give itself away easily and is given the attention it needs. When it is resolved the threads from the opening section are picked up again as the lead in to a new mystery.
The art is very clearly the result of an individual talent and it unifies all the aspects of the book, the page layouts are dynamic and the panel shapes are varied to suit the story requirements. The colouring sets the key tone for the story, it is dark and very deliberately gives the sense of shadowy noir goings on. The figures are fluid and move through the physical context with confidence and clarity , the details are chosen carefully to drive the intent.
What Francesco Francavilla's art also does is to soften the story a bit too much, it does not give the hard edge that it needs to succeed on the terms it sets out. One of the key elements of noir is a harsh , sharp edge brutality that plays up the undertones of the actions of the cast. The lines of the art a just g side on the wrong side of fluid for this. If the story does not quite rise to meet its own ambitions it is a pleasure to read a comic that has the ambition in the first place, and it does go a long way to meeting them.

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