By Philip Schweier
February 12, 2013 - 16:17
And the pulpy goodness continues as our masked crime fighter finds himself in not one, not two, but three deadly situations in which a less imaginative hero might meet his demise. Daring escapes from deathtraps are a staple of such stories, dating back to the Perils of Pauline (1914), one of the earliest Saturday matinee serials which stoked the fires of pulp writing.
Issue #2 left us with our hero trapped between the police and the deep blue sea. After escaping from the cops in novel fashion, he takes to the ocean waves and makes his way back to Colt City. There he returns to the scene of issue #2’s crime, following clues down in to the sewers of the city where he again finds himself caught between two perils: the story’s super-villain above and an army of rats down below.
I won’t spoil how the Black Beetle manages to persevere in his fight for justice. But I will say each escape – aided by first-person narrative – make each resolution ring true, adding a sense of veritas to each episode. Movie serials had a habit of cheating by adding footage to the opening scene of each subsequent chapter, enabling the audience to see the Green Hornet bail out of the burning plane, or to witness Superman arriving in time to shield Lois and Jimmy from the explosion. Writer/artist Francisco Francavilla elevates the level of pulp writing by including readers on the thought processes of his hero.
The art is spot-on; simple, economical and crystal clear without a lot of texturing that often detracts from modern comic artwork. There are no glossy sheens to fabric, no blurry images to depict something as being out of focus. Since in pulp mystery fashion, much of the action takes place at night, so the ink work is somewhat heavy. This allows for colors to be laid in simple and flat. As result, it’s akin to black and white film given a judicious tint of color to enhance the visuals.
My only negative comment is based entirely on personal preference; that the pulp hero be more civilian-garbed, much like Doc Savage or the Green Hornet, rather than masked and caped. If his goggles were re-designed and his cloak traded in for a trenchcoat, I’d be satisfied. But that is strictly a cosmetic trapping of the overall experience.
In my opinion, The Black Beetle is the most faithful homage to the pulps since the debut of the Rocketeer. However, perhaps in another costume, he could easily be mistaken for pre-Robin Batman. I easily find the storytelling to be reminiscent of the Batman animated series. That’s a challenging level to achieve, yet Francavilla makes it look pretty easy.
Rating: 8 /10