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Francesco Francavilla has been showing us his pulp character the Black Beetle for awhile on his blog, and earlier this year the Beetle made the jump from the screen to print with a three-part tale in the Dark Horse Presents anthology. That story was re-released this past week as its own comic, Black Beetle #0, the precursor to a four-issue miniseries.
Not bad for a character that Francavilla re-discovered while “diggin through my things” back in 2009. Francavilla started creating stories about the Beetle after an informal poll on his blog asked his readers which character he should do more with–Black Beetle or a “sci-fi pulp noir” character named Max Malone. Maybe one day Malone will find his way into Dark Horse Presents.
In any event, if you like pulp heroes or Francavilla’s awesome artwork, this might be the book for you … and here are a few reviews from around the web if you still need help making up your mind:
Ryan K. Lindsay, Comic Book Resources: “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.”
Hannah Means-Shannon, The Beat: “Francavilla also has an uncanny instinct for decompressing the narrative at and giving the reader room to breathe during action sequences. An explosion at the museum receives a full-page spread while the Black Beetle’s fire-fight with one of the Third Reich’s ‘Werewolf Korps’ not only receives a double page spread with inset detail panels, it also bristles with sound effects in a hail of gun fire. This may be one of the most skillfully drawn shoot outs you’ll see in the next few months, that is, unless Black Beetle #1 trumps Francavilla’s previous achievements.”
Kevin Finnigan, Comic Book Therapy: “Francavilla balances a noir style with serial style story telling. I wasn’t aware that the majority of this comic appeared in an issue of Dark Horse Presents. Francavilla added eight pages, adding quite a bit more exposition. The exposition, which is an intricate backstory for the artifact, is the only downside to this issue. It breaks up the flow of the comic, halting the momentum. The history for the Black Lizard is interesting, but having the back story come up naturally would have been better. After rereading the issue, I found it surprising how excited I was for the next issue. Francavilla gives us almost nothing as to who the Beetle is or what he is about, but I’m hooked for some reason. In the midst of my pull list being at it’s biggest, I’m finding room for The Black Beetle.”
Jason Serafino, Complex: “Even more impressive than how Francavilla’s plot reads is how stunning his artwork is. Using heavy inks, deep colors, and powerful composition, Francavilla brings the fictional world of Colt City to life in style. We’re not advocates of picking a book up solely for the art, but if grim, vigilantes aren’t your thing, we still think you’ll find something worthwhile about Francavilla’s illustrations. But if you have even the slightest bit of love for old school comics, or street-level crime fighting stories, you should love every aspect of this prologue. We’re just hoping the main series can be even better when it launches next year.”
Ed Allen, Comic Bastards: “Francavilla’s slick artwork is what makes this issue stand out from the pack, creating a tense, moody atmosphere that feels both contemporary and true to the old-school pulp adventure genre through the use of heavy black inks and a deliberately limited color palette. The entire issue feels like it’s been lifted from the pre-WW2 era yet drawn to the standards of today’s comics, with clean lines, fine detailing and judicious use of cross-shading. Francavilla’s use of color is very stylized, with high contrast flashes of red or orange against the muted purples and blues that dominate most pages. These coloring techniques really come into their own in the combat scenes, with gunfire lighting up the otherwise darkened pages. There’s one particularly stunning sequence early on where Francavilla depicts a researcher hiding from nazis in the dusk-lit museum using only three or four colors and from that point on I was completely immersed in the story.”
George Shunick, Bloody Disgusting: “But despite the attention to detail in his artwork, there isn’t a terrible amount of detail to his story. A bunch of Nazi special forces come to a museum to steal a lizard amulet said to contain vast power, and the Beetle tries to stop them. That’s cool and all, but when the majority of the dialogue in your story concerns the tablet in question and not the characters themselves, it’s not very compelling. Moreover, for an issue titled a ‘mystery novelette,’ there isn’t a terrible amount of mystery here. The end presents some questions – Why does the Beetle want the lizard? Who is the man in the black cape? – but none are answered. This issue doesn’t establish any meaningful ‘mystery’ until the end.”
Matthew Santori-Griffith, Comicosity: “Pulp heroes are, of course, making quite the comeback in comics these days, but Black Beetle stands up strongly against his senior counterparts The Green Hornet, The Shadow and The Spider, and is beautifully reminiscent of a more recent, but currently absent, creation — The Blue Beetle. An original creation of the artist, Black Beetle captures so much of what we love about feeling nostalgic for simpler times — where dialogue may be a little more blunt, but it came through a magic sound box called radio, so it mesmerizes us nonetheless. With original stories beginning next month with a four-part tale subtitled No Way Out, Black Beetle is guaranteed to satisfy any reader who wants to experience a little bit of that nostalgia you didn’t know you had. It seems the best things in comics, like life, are simply timeless.”