Top of the Pull List – The Black Beetle: No Way Out #4
By Brian Martin | Graphic/Novels Editor Published: 06/13/2013 1:00 pm EST
Every Wednesday, there is one comic at the top of Graphic/Novels editor Brian Martin’s “pull list.” Whether it’s because the comic is consistently brilliant, it’s the beginning of a new series or run, or it’s purely a whimsical choice, one book must be read before all others. In this weekly column, Brian examines the book he’s anticipating most, why he’s looking forward to it, and, after reading it, whether or not the issue met his expectations. Expect mild spoilers!
The Book:The Black Beetle: No Way Out #4 (Dark Horse Comics, $3.99)
Why is it at the top?As I’ve said previously, not only is Francesco Francavilla at the top of his game on this series, he also seems to be at the top of everyone else’s. He’s always been a fantastic artist, but his work on Black Beetle has demonstrated, month after month, just what a powerhouse this guy is in the comics industry. Flawless art, snappy dialogue, and a winding narrative all combine to make this series a model for how modern pulp heroes should be written. The previous issue left off with the titular hero making the drive outside of Colt City to confront the mysterious villain Labyrinto. I’ll be sad to see this series end (although there is a promise of more on the horizon), but simultaneously can’t wait to see how Francavilla lands it.
So how was it? True to the genre, the final installment of No Way Out is a blood-soaked, bullet-riddled page turner. From the Beetle rocketing down a dark street flanked by shadowy trees to the final ominous pages (that finally shed a little light on the “Intermezzo” sequences), this book practically grabs you by the eyelids and commands you to keep reading.
This issue is really divided into three parts. In the first sequence, the Black Beetle approaches and stealthily enters the isolated mansion at Camp Creek. The dialogue here is sparse, and mostly limited to the Beetle’s internal monologue. Although his hero has started putting all of the pieces of this intricate mystery together, Francavilla cleverly guards many secrets, only teasing and hinting at the truth and saving the big reveal for later.
The center of this issue finds the Beetle face to face, at last, with Labyrinto. The two don’t engage in immediate fisticuffs, however. This is a pulp noir story after all, which means we have to hear the explanation for everything and discover the villain’s identity before the real brawl can begin. In a brilliant moment that is a staple of the genre (but nonetheless exciting), the Beetle, held at gunpoint, utters Labyrinto’s real name, giving the villain pause before he replies, “How’d you figure it out?” The pages that follow allow the Beetle (and readers) to connect the dots and finally see the big picture in a way that is visually arresting and never talks down to the audience. Superb.
The final third of the story is, of course, the blood-soaked, bullet-riddled stuff I mentioned earlier. Things get rough quickly for both the Beetle and his quarry, and the ensuing firefight is paced brilliantly. This effectiveness is due in no small part to the layout of each page, which creates a sense of movement and urgency.
Honestly, although the story is exciting, the art is the biggest draw of this series, and this issue has a number of standout moments (even for a guy who delivers as consistently as Francavilla). The splash page of the Beetle’s drive to Camp Creek, presented as a sort-of map (but without the static nature of an actual map) was terrific, and managed to make the heart race just a tad faster as the Beetle neared his destination. Even cleverer were the four pages in the center of the issue, in which the “camera” seems to rotate between hero and villain as they reveal the “whodunit”, with puzzle pieces in the background detailing the backstory of Labyrinto. Save yourself a few extra minutes when reading this one—you’ll be staring at these pages for a while!
As spectacular an ending as it is, I couldn’t help but feel sad that it was over. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait too long for the next Beetle story, as the final page promises the character’s return this fall in The Black Beetle: Necrologue, which is just about the coolest title for anything I’ve ever encountered in my life. For the love of all that is good in this world, read this comic! You won’t be disappointed!
Brian L. Martin is an educator, writer, and amateur curmudgeon. An avid fan of novels, movies, and beer, he would much rather spend his time reading comics, a lifelong love since receiving a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man # 242 from Spider-Man himself in 1983. His favorite books include The Grapes of Wrath, Siddhartha, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is heavy enough to be considered the only real defense weapon he has in his home. He currently lives with his wife in Uppsala, Sweden.