“The Black Beetle” is the best Batman comic I’ve read in years. It isn’t a Batman comic book, of course, and it isn’t trying to be, but writer-artist Francisco Francavilla’s masterpiece is absolutely what Batman comics should be. It’s a fast-paced action-adventure with moody, classic noir art. There’s gadgetry, mystery, a compelling villain and, well, it’s just terrific.
The Black Beetle is a mysterious costume crime fighter who battles mobsters in fictional Colt City before World War II. The story wastes no panels on an origin story or motivation of the Black Beetle. Instead, it gets right to the action: Nazi commandos attempting to steal a lizard artifact from a Colt City museum. The Beetle shows up, rescues the comely female archeologist and makes off with the lizard artifact.
The Beetle is next drawn into conflict with the mob. His plans to put the smack down on Colt City’s underworld is thwarted when a pub full of mobsters is blown up. The Beetle tracks suspects only to have them murdered before he can extract information. The culprit is a man in a maze costume with ties to the charbroiled gangsters.
“The Black Beetle” is the perfect comic book. It’s fast, fun and beautiful. Francavilla renders Colt City with long shadows made by dim streetlights. The Black Beetle’s face is obscured by his giant red bug eyes on his mask, a great piece of misdirection. The color palate is exceptionally effective. Burnt oranges, reds and washes of dark purple further enhance the noir mood of the piece.
Dark Horse Comics, as usual, produces beautiful trade hardcovers. The volume is wonderfully bound, sits flat on a table when opened and contains scores of pages of extras, character designs and commentary by Francavilla. Bottom line? Buy it. Buy it now.