In 2011, in the anthology series Dark Horse Presents, Francesco Francavilla presented his new character/comic. In Dark Horse Presents issues #11 – 13, the short storyarc “Night Shift” was serialized. I hate paying $7.99 for Dark Horse Presents – especially when I am really unsure about some of the items included. But finally, in September 2012, I found Dark Horse Presents #11 on sale and eagerly read the short Black Beetle stuff. It was really good. I never got around to locating and purchasing #12 and #13. This irked me a little bit, because what little we got in #11 left off on a cliffhanger. In 2013, though, Dark Horse finally started releasing a volume of The Black Beetle – starting with issue #0, which collected the entire “Night Shift” story from Dark Horse Presents.
What made me so very interested in this new creation by Francavilla? Simply I think he’s an excellent artist. I cannot really speak for his writing since I have not read enough to make a good assessment. However, I loved his artwork in the Black Panther volume he did as well as the art for the Captain America issues he did (Captain America & Bucky and Captain America & Black Widow ). I really like his artwork. The main reason is that I feel that it is actually artwork – as opposed to perfunctory comic book drawing. If you read enough comic books, you should get a sense of the different styles of the various artists. Not all things done by each artist are fantastic – many have a sort of “perfunctory” feel to them. Filler issues, the burden placed on the writer rather than artist, nothing standout, etc. However, Francavilla’s art is very clearly his when you see it. And it looks so good that it makes you want to read whatever the writer is writing.
I am not very good at describing artwork. I can only use the words that seem to fit according to my experience. So, forgive me if any of this is indelicate. Francavilla’s artwork seems (to me) to not be focused on excessive detail or realism. He relies on basic framing, understanding of shadows and inks, and his own color palette of favorite colors. Generally, oranges, blacks, blues. Nothing overly colorful and kaleidoscope-y.
Anyway, I picked up issue #1, which starts the 4-part story “No Way Out.” I am a little icky because I wanted to find #0, but alas. Anyway, Black Beetle is a style of costumed hero living in Colt City – which is a 1930’s-esque time period urban city on the East Coast. The whole concept of the story and art is in the tradition of “pulp” vintage crime stuff. I do not want to give anything away, so I am going to be really brief with the synopsis: Black Beetle is doing surveillance on Colt City clubs that the gangster families frequent. Roxy Club, Coco, Spencer’s, etc. And at one of these, an explosion occurs – Beetle then seeks out the culprit. It is not who he expects to find. And we learn a little bit about the geography of Colt City along the way.
I gave this issue 8/10 stars on the comic book site that I frequent. For here, I am going to ballpark it at four stars. I love the art – I’ve already said that. The story is good – because it does have that true vintage crime pulp feel. The ads in the issue are minimal (I think there was one? Thank you Dark Horse!). However, I demand a lot from first issues and I was not in total awe after finishing the issue. I re-read it and felt comfortable with my rating. Also, I am very interested in pulling the next issue.