I’m not prone to writing reviews of comics
unless I’m able to read the entire story. In this era of multi-issue story
arcs, that’s pretty rare. However, as someone who loves the old-style pulps of
the 1930s and ‘40s, The Black Beetle is right up my alley.
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
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.