Francesco Francavilla’s The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out is the re-invocation of the classic hard-boiled costumed vigilante blasting and exploding his way to the truth. From battling the Werewolf Corps (a Nazi sect) who are hunting down occult artefacts to facing down Colt City’s criminal element (Galazzos and the Fierros), The Black Beetle (not to be confused with the Beetle from the DC Universe) is the ultimate tribute to the pulpy melodrama of the 1940s. In the top left hand corner of the of one of the covers are the words “Presented in Cinescope Technicolor”. If it were actually a movie from the era, the Black Beetle would probably be played by Humphrey Bogart.
The most striking thing about Francavilla’s graphic novel is that it is not a reworking of an established character. Not exactly. Colt City does have a kind of Gotham like feel, and the ‘Beetle’ in the name brings to mind the Blue Beetle. All the traditional elements that makes the superhero genre so exciting are present. Like Batman, the Black Beetle is bit of a detective, with a few gadgets of his own. The difference is that there is no origin story, not yet anyway. There is no psychological explanation for why this man would dress like a vigilante to fight crime or tackle a major Nazi conspiracy. He just is, which is kind of refreshing. His secret identity remains secret even from the reader.
However, there is a hint that the hero has been around for a while. In the penultimate panel in the second chapter of ‘Night Shift’, the head of a robed figure says, “black beetle”, then in the last panel the robed figure is slanted and silhouetted against that ominous orange light that permeates the entire graphic novel. The only thing that can clearly be seen on the shadowy figure is the symbol of a circular labyrinth on his chest, and he continues “So we didn’t kill you in Haiti…I’ll make sure to correct that error”, which raises questions about the relationship between the cloaked figure and our vigilante.
With night time gunfights at a museum to sleuthing around a mobster jazz club, the Italian comic book artist does not disappoint. Francavilla’s artwork is beautiful and I think there is tight narrative thread that keeps it all together.
The only thing that sucks is that I don’t know what happens next.
Story, Cover Art, Art, Colours: Francesco Francavillo
Lettering: Nat Piekos