The Black Beetle is kind of a dick ... but not in the way you’re thinking, potty mouth. To explain: in this, the third issue of his first groundbreaking Dark Horse series, the fantastic new “super noir” hero created by Francesco Francavilla is a wicked character amalgam of Batman and - here comes the dick (wink) - Dick Tracy.
Within this consummated union between two of fiction’s most celebrated crime-fighters, Francavilla has managed to spawn something unique. This issue plays out like a vibrant shadow, with pages draped in as much light as dark, both in the art and in the story itself. Most of issue three takes place at The CoCo Club, formerly owned and operated by a one Faccia D’Angelo, who has, along with many others of Colt City’s underbelly element, been suitably “whacked” in issue one.
Attempting to get to the bottom of things, The Black Beetle arms himself with a latex face, a false identity (with the inspired last name of Steves) and the secret weapon of any fine purveyor of justice: bourbon. Thus properly lubricated for action and girded for stealth, the incognito Beetle, in quick succession, hits on CoCo’s resident lounge singer, Miss Ava Sheridan, and stumbles across further mystery, as one of his previously-thought-dead mafia nemeses appears to be very much alive and kicking.
Speaking of which, we are treated to our own healthy shot this issue, as BB quickly kicks the respective asses of a foolish group of thugs, but little does he know that he is being watched. Amidst the clamor, we are shown another “Intermezzo” - which is a great way to break up the story - this time featuring, as you do, a naked gentleman praying to a snake lady over a picture of Antonia Howard, who we last saw, to any great effect, back in the zero issue. It’s good to see that there is more at work within The Black Beetle mythos than this current case; further comfort that this fun title will presumably be expanded with the rest of the Dark Horse line of superheroes.
Altogether, the third installment within The Black Beetle’s inaugural arc, “No Way Out,” satisfies in the way I’ve come to not just expect, but thirst for every month. In this case, however, it does so by leaving the cape and cowl in the closet, allowing the reader to see another face of our titular hero while distancing him from similar examples by way of characterization. We’re still skirting the surface of this as yet unmasked man, but Francavilla is doing a great job of implying the depths therein with subtle hints, keenly delivered in the Beetle’s pulpy, private detective-esque asides.
Francavilla continues to have a shit-ton of fun with his panels here, and it’s impossible not to follow suit. His action sequences appear like stain-glass windows at midnight, while his introductory pages at the club are sewn together with the various social fabrics of Colt City’s nightlife using a stunning visual thread of sheet music. And that’s another point; the more I follow the adventures of The Black Beetle, switching as he does between devil-may-care antics and street-level detective work, the more I appreciate his populating, if not exemplifying, a fully-textured world. Everything in this place feels like it’s been rendered from rich hide, a throwback to a world where materials, like its men, were made of sterner stuff, instead of plastic affectation.
I honestly couldn’t love this book more if I tried. Luckily, I really don’t have to try.
Writer/Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 04/17/13