Story and Art: Francesco Francavilla
Francesco Francavilla has a passion for the pulps. A Google image search with his name attached will immediately yield hundreds of results showcasing his renditions of vintage characters like The Shadow, the Golden Age Sandman, and The Spider. It's no surprise, then, that his own hero, The Black Beetle, should draw so much from the pulp and serial heroes of the 30s and 40s. "Night Shift" from The Black Beetle #0 is a perfect showcase for Francavilla's moody realism, and a terrific introduction to a compelling new character.
The Black Beetle #0 collects "Night Shift," a story that ran in three parts in Dark Horse Presents #s 11-13. Collecting the complete story in this single issue allows those of us who missed these early tales to get a glimpse of what the Beetle's world is all about. And what a world it is! Francavilla perfectly captures the mood and tone of vintage pulp adventure stories, golden age comics, and the excitement and non-stop action of the movie serials of the thirties and forties. "Night Shift" is atmospheric, mysterious, and violent, throwing you right into the action with barely a hint about the character's origins.
Operating out of Colt City in 1941, the Black Beetle is a shadowy avenger with no qualms about dispatching his enemies with a well-placed burst of gunfire. His costume is a delight for any fan of the Golden Age of comics and appears to draw a little inspiration from the Republic Pictures Spy Smasher serial. The Beetle and his foes (Nazis with helicopter backpacks!!!) are on the trail of a mysterious supernatural artifact, so it's only natural that their paths would cross. We learn very little about the Black Beetle in this fast-paced yarn, but there are hints that he's been operating for some time, and that there's some history between him and the main villain.
Francavilla provides the words, art, and the colors, and just knocks it all right out of the park. His art style plays right to all of my favorite Golden Age sensibilities, and his color choices are appropriately subdued and smoky. If you're not familiar with his work already, this is the perfect place to start. The Black Beetle looks like an exciting hero, and Francavilla looks poised to populate this world with all manner of colorful, vintage-style characters. For fans of old pulp adventure heroes, or just fans of darn good storytelling, Black Beetle #0 is a can't miss. While reading the full color comic, I could practically hear the breathless tones of an old radio drama, or see the Black Beetle as the star of his own Republic serial. There's no doubt about it, boys and girls! The Black Beetle #0 was the best thing I read all week!