If you could hear comic book reviews, I’d ask that this one be listened to in low-def, and recorded by someone who speaks in that fast-talking, old-timey radio, almost British-sounding American accent with an intro like... Greetings and salutations, junior mystery fans! It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for - the finale of a thrilling four-part adventure serial featuring that most mysterious masked marvel known only as ... The Black Beetle [gun shot / whip crack]! So grab your decoder ring, a tall glass of milk and a fresh pack of Windfall Filtered Cigarettes - The Smoke that Lights Justice - as we, for one final time, plunge back into the black heart of Colt City...
If you can’t tell, I’ve been enraptured with this series in a way that openly (and quite happily) defies most common measures of maturity. Hell, I haven’t felt this way since my parents bought me the cassette tape collection of the original radio drama for The Shadow, and my brother and I would park ourselves in front of our family stereo like two fawning teenage girls.
In a similar way, whenever I’ve picked up a new issue of The Black Beetle’s inaugural story arc, “No Way Out,” I can still hear those happily hokey studio sound effects - the creaking doors, the gritty footsteps, the tinny ricochets of bullets, the crackly DUN DUN DUUUUUN sound whenever our hero is found in peril. It has been absolutely amazing to watch writer and artist Francesco Francavilla fill an otherwise deaf medium with such vibrant volume.
In the final issue of this breakout super-noir hit from Dark Horse, the titular hero finally fits together all of the pieces in the mystery of who killed most of the organized crime element in his native Colt City, which of course lies in the true identity of his new nemesis, the neon-yellow gimp suit-wearing vigilante known as Labyrinto!
In its telling, Francavilla once again shows a proven mastery of the sequential art layout, carving his backgrounds into a jigsaw mosaic of the events that have brought us to this point, which of course also evokes the labyrinthine nature of this story, as well as its main antagonist. As our hero, employing things like “subterfuge” and “karate,” quietly infiltrates the mafia stronghold retreat called Camp Creek, and lays out his solution to the puzzle, we are treated to a cathartic release of whos, whys and hows.
To be completely honest, though, I did find the “mystery” at play behind this “mystery tale” - that being the true identity and malevolent motivations of the villainous Labyrinto - not as shocking as it could have been, and I’d even venture to say that it verged on the predictable. I also would have liked to have seen a bit more action from our hero, who here only really sneaks about and, when the bullets start flying, high-tails it the hell outta Dodge like he’s guilty.
Then again, The Black Beetle is the direct heir of a different time, when twists in the story were not so intricately knotted; as such, it should be read with the appropriate level of built-in innocence. So while I would call the finish of such a strong series a bit softer than I was expecting, it doesn’t change my overall enjoyment or appreciation for the series as a whole and I can’t WAIT for this little guy to come out in trade!
Issue four also acts as an appetite-whetting tease for the Beetle’s next noir adventure, which has been titled - pretty amazingly - “Necrologue,” and will be coming out this fall. The “post-credits” scene at the end of the book shows the shady figure, Dr. Stephano Corallo, as he meets up with a familiar face in Dr. Antonia Howard, whose inclusion here promises a continuation of its first storyline (in the zero issue) with the mysterious artifact known as The Hollow Lizard, as well as something called the nazi werewolf corps, which tantalizes me a bit more than the mafia, because ... well ... because it’s a goddamn nazi werewolf corps!
Until then, if you haven’t already, get caught-up with this series. Its richly-textured, atmospherically alive art and simple yet gripping storytelling has been a hallmark of my formative days here at Comic Bastards, and a credit to Dark Horse’s line as a whole. To put it more succinctly, much like a well-aimed bullet in a damp Colt City night, The Black Beetle “No Way Out” is unmissable.
Writer/Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 6/12/13