Francesco Francavilla is officially the whole package with Black Beetle: No Way Out. He’s had a long, and notable, career as an artist, but here, we get to see what he’s like as a writer, as well. And he does beautifully on both counts.
The writing stands out not least because Francavilla manages to simultaneously evoke the pulp heroes and the superheroes that were based on them without coming off as cheesy. Francavilla’s writing, and artwork, may be in love with a certain age, but he avoids cliches in both. The dialogue is well-paced and feels of the time without feeling forced, and the book itself is quickly paced. There’s a story here, and it’s a pretty zippy one; somebody is bumping off gangsters before the Black Beetle can put them behind bars, and it’s not sitting well with him.
And then there’s the art. Francavilla does more with layouts here that we see in most books on the stands, even well rendered ones. Here’s one splash page, for example:
Is he showing off? Abso-freakin’-lutely. But who cares? Every page of this book is that gorgeous, that thought out, that lovingly rendered.
And Francavilla plays right to his strengths: We’ve got a prison on a cliff, Golden Age back alleys filled with shadow, and period details, lovingly rendered. Francavilla keeps his color palette limited, a choice that really sets the atmosphere, and he gives himself enough room to show off without either turning the book into an art tour or cramping pages with dialogue. This is a book written by somebody who is in love with Will Eisner’s work and has the feel of something that can match up to him.
Sure, there are deeper books on the stands, but this is a solid slice of pulp as a story, and art-wise one of the best books on the stands. It’s well, well worth picking up.