The Black Beetle Vol. 1: No Way Out by Francesco Francavilla – Graphic Novel Review [Bane of Kings]

The Black Beetle Vol. 1

Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, reviews the graphic novel focused on the adventures of Dark Horse Comics’ pulpy superhero The Black Beetle, with Francesco Francavilla (Batman: The Black Mirror & Green Hornet: Year One) at the helm of both writing and artistic duties. This graphic novel can be read as a standalone collection with little knowledge of the character required.

“The main attraction to the Black Beetle in No Way Out will be the absolutely stellar artwork of Francesco Francavilla, but Francavilla manages to craft a strong narrative thread that makes this comic a must read for fans of pulp-era superheroes with a fun and engaging storyline that comes highly recommended.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

Story: Francesco Francavilla | Art: Francesco Francavilla | Publisher: Dark Horse Comics | Collects:  #0, #1-4 | Price: £14.99/$19.99

After witnessing an explosion that decimates the city’s organized crime community, killing dozens, the Black Beetle—Colt City’s sleuthing sentinel—is on the hunt for answers and justice!

Follow Francesco Francavilla’s critically acclaimed pulp hero as he searches island prisons, dank sewers, and swanky nightclubs for the mysterious man known as Labyrinto.

“The Black Beetle #1 is one of the most exhilarating, stunning superhero comics on the stands . . . This miniseries presents a high-stakes mystery realized through Francavilla’s intensely graphic style, full of innovative layouts and spectacular splash pages.”—The Onion’s A.V. Club

“I , FOR ONE, CANNOT WAIT TO GET MORE!” —Comic Book Resources

“The hard-boiled mystery hits the ground running and doesn’t pause to catch its breath.”—Nerdist

It’s a rare sight to see both artistic and narrative duties only done by one person in the modern comics industry. Tony S. Daniel did the early issues of the New 52 reboot of Detective Comics and Jeff Lemire’s Trillium are the only two ones that I can call off the top of my head – with Trillium being distinctively more impressive than Detective Comics – but along came Francesco Francavilla – whose work best suits a pulpy publisher like Dynamite – and with what he’s produced here it’s easy to see why. This trade is worth picking up for the artwork alone – Francavilla is one of my favourite artists (up there with the likes of Andrea Sorrentino, JH Williams III, Jim Lee and Greg Capullo) and this artwork is really impressive – I just love how he’s pulled it off here.

The Black Beetle Vol. 1The Black Beetle is a character who I haven’t encountered before, and I was glad when I got the chance to read this to explore the character – I don’t have to be familiar with decades of backstory in order to understand what’s going on – it’s one of those books where I can delve right into the main protagonist and enjoy the book even if it was my first graphic novel ever. The book itself doesn’t fall into the trap of fitting into an expanded universe as well, which means you won’t get bogged down with crossovers early on.

The character himself is distinctively pulpy – he wouldn’t look out of place in Alan Moore’s Watchmen – throwing back to the eras of the ‘40s and ‘50s during a pulpier era. Whilst the storyline – like Tony S. Daniel’s Detective Comics – may not match the quality of the artwork – it’s still an impressive and fun book, with a detective tale that manages to be pretty intense right the way through. You also get to witness the #0 issue in this collection, detailing a group of Nazi agents in their quest for an amulet – to explore the introduction of the Black Beetle in the same way that the #0 issues last year took up back to the early years of the heroes at DC Comics.

If you’re looking for a pulpy tale with some fantastic artwork then The Black Beetle in No Way Out will be for you. Right from the cover to the last page the artwork is engrossing and beautiful, and this remains the biggest achievement of Francavilla here. It’s just a shame that the storyline isn’t as strong. However – whilst it may be not as strong, it’s certainly not bad – and even pretty solid and better in parts than some of the main big-two books that I’ve read.

Recommended. If you love Francavilla’s artwork like myself – this is a must buy. It’s always fun to return to the pulp genre of comics every now and again and for the most part my experience with stuff like this, even if it’s usually from Dynamite Comics as opposed to Dark Horse has been largely a positive one, so I’m certainly going to be looking at expanding my readership in the future. There’s a new Black Beetle mini-series by Francavilla – on both art and writing duties hitting stands at the beginning of next year – Black Beetle: Necrologue, and based on this Volume, I can certainly see myself checking it out. And you’ll want to make sure that you read this Volume as soon as you can, so you can be on board for when Necrologue hits, too – this is the sort of stuff that makes you only want more, and if more Black Beetle is on the table, then you can certainly count me in for this – especially with Francesco Francavilla at the helm. 

VERDICT:  4/5

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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