This sure was a book full of Francesco Francavilla drawing a character and world he's passionate about. Translation: it's fucking gorgeous. As in jaw-droppingly great art. It's not just that Francavilla has designed a strong lead character, or even the level of detail and care he gives to the rest of the book. It's also his constantly-shifting and cinematic page layouts. There are more than a few splashes and two-page spreads, but they punctuate pages filled with attention-grabbing design. I think my favorite was when Black Beetle loaded up and then fired his dart guns. He's such an imposing figure in the center of that page, and all the smaller panels surrounding him keep the pace lively and energetic. But there are numerous other examples, because I'm pretty sure Francavilla never repeats himself, layout-wise. Panels with curved borders or no borders, images that overlap each other, dramatic close-ups and sudden chase scenes and massive explosions. Francavilla makes does it all, and beautifully.
Another thing I liked about the artwork was this it was so instantly and steadily strong, I barely noticed it at all on my first reading. It opens with a powerful image of Black Beetle that is followed by a two-page spread giving background on the bad guys he's after, and by the time those initial three pages were done I was already so wrapped up in the imagery that I had to remind myself to be impressed with it on the pages that followed. It never takes the slightest dip in quality, and so you almost become used to it as you make your way into the meat of the issue. It's a standard of excellence I wish I saw more often.
As is typically the case with Francavilla, though, what I ultimately loved most about the artwork was the coloring. Such deep, all-encompassing blacks being cut through by reds and oranges that are a strange mix of bright and muted. It immediately sets up the tone of a dark and serious noir story that is still having a lot of fun with itself. And that comes across in the script, too. Black Beetle never smiles, never really cracks wise. He is stone serious about bringing justice to Colt City, and uses some heavy-handed methods to accomplish it. But even with Beetle as a first-person narrator, there is an underlying sense of enjoyment and excitement in this book, which I assume comes from Francavilla enjoying the hell out of himself while he made it. The art is so dynamic and the pacing so swift that you can't help but get swept up in it.
Right in the middle of the issue, the writing does feel a bit too rushed, but it still works for the character. Black Beetle isn't interested in wasting time in the gathering of information. He brutally and efficiently finds out what he needs to know from the low-lifes of his city, and because it's such a fast and simple task for him, the story doesn't spend too much time on it. I would have liked to hear the actual voices of the criminals he was interrogating, but even if it was somewhat glossed over, this middle section fits in with the overall portrayal of the series' protagonist. He slows down and gives us the details when we are seeing the handiwork of his mysterious new opponent, but the small-time stuff in between matters little to him and is therefore given less space.
We get a glimpse of that new villain at the end of the issue that could not be more intriguing, and it sets him up as equally quick and resourceful as our hero. He's a scary-looking man, and has obviously struck fear in the hearts of the city's mobsters in almost no time at all. So I am definitely anxious to see the full reveal of that character, his origins and motives and abilities, in forthcoming issues.
I'm excited for everything the future of this series potentially offers, but again, the best thing is that this is Francavilla drawing a fully Francavillan title. His love for the work is poured into every page, and we're all richer for it.