Francesco Francavilla’s art is so great. A noir sensibility with a heavy dose of Mazzucchelli style line/shadow work, his covers look straight out of 60’s film posters and pulp novels. This is the first dedicated title for The Black Beetle, a character created by Francavilla. He handles all aspects– writing, directing, artwork, colouring– only lettering is done by someone else. It’s an impressive undertaking previously showcased on his Pulp Sunday blog and in issues 11-13 of Dark Horse Presents. His approach is retro but refreshing as evidenced by the cover credits: The Black Beetle in Night Shift, A Mystery Novellette by Francesco Francavilla. It’s a comic book spin on classic pulp stories and the first issue delivers murder, intrigue and over the top villainous deeds.
The Black Beetle is a shadowy hero with a pretty awesome costume. It’s simple but unique in the comic world where there are only so many different tights and capes to go around. It has a really great silhouette, which not many heroes can boast. Just like how you always know it’s Batman by his silhouette, the same is true of the Black Beetle. The outfit also matches the time period, 1941 in Colt City, where Hitler is still a very real and ever encroaching threat. It may be cliché to fall back on one of history’s vilest villains as the antagonist but that’s just how the book approaches it; historically, but with a twist. It’s a fact of the Black Beetle’s world without being a cheesy punch line. Similar to how Hellboy’s world includes Herr Hitler as a character fascinated by black magic and mythology, The Black Beetle is looking into a specific artifact that’s guaranteed to catch Hitler’s eye, which recently became part of the Colt City Natural Museum of History’s collection. Of course, once he starts to investigate, evildoers appear.
It’s an unabashed debut, setting up Black Beetle’s world without spilling all the beans. He’s a mysterious character whose intentions aren’t totally clear yet, especially with a surprising scene at the end of the issue that certainly makes it seem like he’s not completely a good guy. There’s something really iconic about every aspect of this book, from the title to his character to the artwork and more. The visuals are superb, heavy shadows and a very simple colour palette. There are rarely more then three colours used on each page, achieving the noir tone without difficulty. One of my favourite parts is how he’s even themed the letters section as WCCR Colt City Radio. It’s a meticulously created mythos and I’m excited to read the rest.