They say all good things must come to and end…or do they? Well, in comic books, it’s a bit subjective whether or not anything truly comes to an end, but in the case of Black Beetle: No Way Out, issue four concludes this particular arc as Black Beetle puts all the pieces together concerning the supposed “deaths” of the heads of all the crime families in Colt City. To say anything else would give everything away, but writer/artist/creator Francesco Francavilla manages wrap everything up in a satisfying way while seamlessly transitioning into the next arc that will begin in the fall. In a way, Black Beetle is a bit like episodic television since the Intermezzos of the previous three issues, as well as “Night Shift”, the issue preceding the current arc, have all led to the beginning of the next arc at the end of issue four. Francavilla is crafting a new pulp hero and with each story, Black Beetle gets closer and closer to the Pulp Pantheon.
What I can say without spoiling anything is that Francavilla does a fantastic job of creating and maintaining tension and mood within the story. In the finale of any mystery, the whole “Who dunnit?” portion means the audience or the reader are treated to heavy doses of exposition so everything makes sense and they don’t feel cheated after spending their time following the mystery along with the detective. The visual medium of comics allows for both dialogue and art to tell the story and fill in the blanks, which Francavilla does expertly. In a beautifully composed four-page spread in which Black Beetle and Labyrinto (the yellow suited “maze man” who’s been a step ahead of our hero at every turn) both reveal vital information, but how Francavilla represents this conversation is nothing less than stunning. When Black Beetle pieces the puzzle together, half of his face takes up half the page while the visual representations of his dialogue play out within panels shaped like puzzle pieces and cross over to the next page where half of Labyrinto’s face takes up half the page as well. When the reverse occurs and it’s Labyrinto’s turn to expound his side of the story, the same motif is used. It’s an artistically engaging spin on the typical exposition dump of most mysteries. In the case of Black Beetle, we get the information, but we also get a beautiful piece of art showcasing how something as mundane as exposition can be more cleverly presented. Prior to and during the confrontation between Black Beetle and Labyrinto, there’s still a steady amount of tension building around them as a group of enforcers and body guards slowly come to the conclusion that something isn’t quite right.
What I found the most interesting in the closing pages of the issue is how Black Beetle reacts during the climax. Trapped by gunfire on one end and actual fire on the other, Black Beetle makes a decision that firmly places him within the ethical morass of pulp heroes. Unlike the superheroes of today, or how many of them have evolved in our current culture, pulp heroes weren’t always the type to save everyone. Even Batman was content to let criminals die in his early days, which coincides far more with the time in which early comic book and pulp heroes were written. Upholding such attitudes with Black Beetle when he decides to let the resolution play out within “the family” while he saves his own skin is an interesting choice, one which I’m sure will have consequences in later arcs for our hero.
Final Thoughts: The end is only the beginning.