It's the start of an all new pulp adventure from Dark Horse, featuring Francesco Francavilla's The Black Beetle!
"All I can think about is who got to them before I did, while I should really be thinking about freefalling from an eighteen story building."
It can be a real fun time when a comic book goes back to the medium's roots. Comics, of course, are a descendent of early 20th century pulp fiction stories. The four-color high adventure tales we all enjoy so much are rooted in boy's adventure magazines and dime novels that were replete with colorful characters and exotic concepts and locales. This is the domain of Francesco Francavilla, creator of The Black Beetle, the new pulp-inspired hero currently being published in a new limited series by Dark Horse.
The Black Beetle: No Way Out #1 is, thankfully, more than just emulation. Francavilla was born to draw pulp fiction. His enthusiasm and mastery of the genre shows through on every page of No Way Out #1. Francavilla's art, which he draws and colors himself, has always distinguished itself with its heavy spotted blacks and beautiful grittiness. It's perfect for the shadowy world of urban crime and solitary defenders of the night, and it makes the issue a real beauty to look at. No Way Out #1, as does just about anything Francavilla works on, also boasts wonderfully dynamic page designs that really make the story stand out and shine. Francavilla's layouts being what they are, no two pages look alike. It's a story that's constantly in motion, and that's reflected perfectly in the art. One remarkable example: the first four pages of the issue are splash pages, but while the first is an establishing shot of the title character, the next two pages are actually smartly designed collages that move the reader's eye through the information that makes the exposition economical, and the fourth exhibits a clever approach to establishing a sense of scale. These pages eschew the conventional panel-structure endemic to comics, but they crackle with excitement. When Francavilla does use panels, he does so beautifully, using various shapes and sizes to cleverly establish the beats and rhythms of the comic.
While we got a nice introduction to The Black Beetle in "The Night Shift," the story serialized in Dark Horse Presents, No Way Out #1 serves as something of a survey of Colt City, and the larger world The Black Beetle is set in. It's a world on the precipice of World War II, and there's a palpable darkness in the air (not just because the whole issue takes place at night). We find out that there's reason for Colt City to need a maximum-security prison, and the fact that The Black Beetle exists at all is testament that there are a lot of streets that need to be cleaned up. The noirish tale has our hero about to get the drop on two major crime families, only to realize via explosion, that someone else has beaten him to it. From there, mysteries abound, not just about the anonymous bomber, but about The Black Beetle himself. Francavilla drops the audience in media res, and this is no origin story. We never learn anything about the man behind the mask, so much like The Beetle, the reader is looking for clues that might be a lead. Scour the pages all you like, there's plenty of detail that makes things more and more interesting, but there aren't many answers yet. Those, we can only assume are reserved for future issues.
The Black Beetle: No Way Out #1 is hugely entertaining and it has all the hallmarks of everything that makes pulp adventure fiction so much fun. We have guns and gadgets and crime, not to mention inky black darkness and big mysteries. It's just a fun ride and so lovingly rendered by writer/artist Francesco Francavilla that you can't help but love it yourself. This is what happens when a creator works in the milieu that spawned him: he flourishes. Francesco Francavilla's The Black Beetle: No Way Out #1 is an unqualified success, and here's hoping we get to see a lot more.