Friday, April 19, 2013

Pull List Review: The Black Beetle: No Way Out #3

Surprise, surprise, this comic looks amazing. Francesco Francavilla is pouring himself into this series, and every page glows. The visual highlight is easily the fistfight Black Beetle has with a trio of thugs in an alleyway, where the action is so big and bold that the pages literally cannot contain all of it. So the sound effects are in panels that get cut off by the borders of the comicbook itself, while the carefully choreographed combat takes center stage and always looks incredibly fluid and bold. Right before that fight begins, there is a page that does sort of the opposite thing, breaking two static images up into a number of panels. It is the tense calm before the storm, where every second feels like a minute, and then when the tension breaks it bursts wide open, spilling out beyond the edges of the world in which it's contained.
     The very opening page is also intelligently laid out, a grid of tiny panels with musical notes running underneath, showing us a series of stolen moments from a typical lounge/club scene before the amazing two-page title card spread that follows and reveals the club in all of its atmospherically-lit glory. It is a strong opening beat that pulls you right in with its details and warmth, both of which are maintained right until the end of the issue. Perhaps the most notable example other than the very beginning is when Black Beetle is standing in the Colt City medical examiner's office. The eerie lighting of the room and rich, realistic anatomical pictures put the reader on edge while simultaneously welcoming them in. That whole scene, actually, has that effect, getting under your skin but also daring you to look away. It all builds up to the exciting final splash of Black Beetle tearing off in his car, a huge, block-lettered VROOM effect trailing on the road behind his vehicle. It serves as both the issue's final beat and an excellent standalone image of the character, capturing his sense of adventure and pulp look exactly.
     On the story side of things, The Black Beetle: No Way Out #3 is a bitter lighter than the previous chapters have been. There is basically only a single plot point introduced in this issue, the fact that one of the supposedly dead criminals from issue #1 is, in fact, still alive and in hiding. This is a significant detail, and sets everything up for what will become the final confrontation next time, but it is such a simple and straightforward truth, discovered in an equally simple manner, that when I hit that amazing final page I was surprised I'd reached the issue's conclusion. It felt like it was only getting started, and then it ended. But this is the penultimate installment of the mini-series, so having me anxious to see the resolution is probably exactly what it wants to accomplish. In that regard, I guess the pacing of this issue is a success, but I still would've liked a bit more narrative meat.
     Instead of filling in the plot, Francavilla takes some time to lean into the tropes of the genre he's emulating, and that he does quite well. Black Beetle makes an "easy way or hard way" offer to the thugs before he beats them up. There's a somewhat cliched sultry lounge singer in the beginning that he flirts with. Even the notion of a villain faking his death is a well-worn idea. I go back and forth on whether or not Francavilla is relying too heavily on these immediately recognizable details, but ultimately I think that if you want to do an homage to an entire era/style of storytelling, you may as well go big or go home. Francavilla ain't going home, and I wouldn't want him to.
     So perhaps airier than usual, but no less artistically stunning, easy to follow, or fun. And even if the script was on the fluffy side, it left me eager to see the story's conclusion, wishing I was racing toward it with the same speed as our protagonist on the closing page. A consistently triumphant book continues to impress.

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