Publisher: Dark Horse
Writer: Francesco Francavilla
Artist: Francesco Francavilla
Release Date: Feb. 20, 2013
Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Actually, no, I’m not sorry. You know why? Because an Indiana Jones reference is entirely appropriate for a review of a comic based in the pulp-noir genre. Jones himself was a character derived from pulp adventure stories from the 30’s and 40’s, so, if anything, Francesco Francavilla did everything but make the reference in the comic. I just took his visuals and narration to their logical conclusion. You’re welcome! What can I say? I’m a giver.
If you’ve read Black Beetle: No Way Out #2, then you know I’ve skipped ahead quite a bit, but that’s okay because this issue moves at a rapid pace, which makes catching up easy enough. A lot of people tend to look at noir and conclude that it’s too slow for the go-go-go, ADHD mentality of the current era. Francavilla defies such conventions by making No Way Out a subtle, dynamic story, with plenty of action, that doesn’t sacrifice the mystery building within the pages. If anything, the action adds to the mystery as we meet the enigmatic Labyrinto, the man in the bright yellow costume who’s responsible for murdering most of Colt City’s crime families. When last we left our hero, Black Beetle was caught by prison guards ready to arrest him for the murder of Costantino who was BB’s only living link to the crime families. Thanks to Labyrinto, not so much anymore. Luckily, BB’s got a contingency plan – like ya do – and he evades capture to continue his search for answers.
Unfortunately, the search leads him down into the old sewer system where the rats dwell. Those hungry, hungry rats! His efforts are rewarded with a sparse amount of evidence – a matchbook for the CoCo Club and a melted ring with the initials I.G. Dismayed, but unrelenting, BB’s ready to scour the surface again when he encounters Labyrinto for the second time. Or rather, Labyrinto attempts to kill him for the second time. Remember, those rats looked hungry. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a running gag, but No Way Out is an interesting title when one considers that Black Beetle has been put in situations where it appears as though there’s no way out (twice in this issue) and yet he continues to find a way out. And yet, maybe that’s the point. Black Beetle isn’t a hero with powers, he’s just a man with a lot of gadgets and even more brains. When you emblazon a comic with words that automatically imply peril, watching the hero escape that peril is ultimately more satisfying. It would also be a rather short comic if there clearly was no way out and Black Beetle died in the first issue. Where’s the fun in that?
That’s what makes this issue in particular so enjoyable. It’s fun. While the first issue is by no means a dud (you’ll recall I praised it quite a bit), it was still beholden to establishing the story and the character of Black Beetle, all while blowing us away with amazing visuals. That takes time and precious panels to accomplish. In the second issue, Francavilla doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. Now the focus is on the mystery, the villain responsible, and the detective trying to unravel it all. Black Beetle’s inner monologue is still sparse, but informative nonetheless. We’re in his head for the obvious reason – avoiding the cliché of detectives talking out loud to themselves just to give exposition – but it’s also a means of keeping the audience in line with Black Beetle’s process and methods. We know as much as he does, which means we’re just as much in the dark as to why all of this is happening. We’re experiencing the story along with Black Beetle. Other comics might try to jump the gun and give the audience more information than the hero, but noir is about the mystery and how it’s solved. Show, don’t tell. The most actual dialogue we get is from Labyrinto, who gets to play out two of my favorite villain clichés: monologuing and leaving the hero before you’ve confirmed he’s dead. Classic.
Visually, Francavilla knocks it out of the park – as he always does. I’ve never been the biggest fan of the color orange, but he manages to make it the most beautiful color on the page, complimenting it with purples, blues, and a heavy dose of black. The most jarring visual is Labyrinto and his yellow costume, which Francavilla manages to render as menacingly as possible. It’s the perfect juxtaposition of the black clad hero and the colorfully attired villain. I hesitate to make the typical Batman comparison because Black Beetle deserves to stand on his own, but those are the images that run through my head. I will simply say thank you to Mr. Francavilla for paying homage while still providing such visually stunning characters.
Final Thoughts: Read it and love it!