Monday, April 29, 2013

Pulp Noir Monday: Black Beetle

Artwork ©2012 Francesco Francavilla
Continuing in my posts of pulp-era themed games, books, comics, movies, and TV shows, today's post covers a relatively new comic by Dark Horse Comics called Black Beetle. For more pulp era posts, check out my Pulp Noir tag.

Black Beetle is a monthly limited series, called "No Way Out," that's currently on issue #3. There was also a #0 issue that was a sort of a stand-alone introduction to the character that collects his appearances from Dark Horse Presents

As always with these types of overviews, I will attempt to avoid spoilers for those who plan to read the story.

What Is It?
Black Beetle is about a masked crime-fighter adventurer who lives in the fictitious Colt City in a 1930s-era time frame. As a character, he at times appears to be a sort of mix of the original 1938 Batman but with the sarcastic sense of humor of Indiana Jones - in fact, the 0-issue has him facing off against some Nazis who are attempting to steal some ancient artifacts from a museum exhibition.

The main storyline of "No Way Out" is pretty much a straight-up detective story involving local gangster type characters. Black Beetle uses his wits, along with some pretty cool gadgets, to fight the gangsters and a sort of super-villain character, the mysterious Labyrinto.

The use of period dressing and language really helps to ground the series firmly in the pulp era. In one scene, the main character, in his civilian disguise, visits a jazz club to dig up some clues, and meets the sultry lead singer of the band, who asks our dashing hero if he has any plans for the evening. He responds, "I had a coupla things, but you made me forget them, sweetheart." It's pitch-perfect for the setting and mood the book is trying to evoke.

Who Is the Creative Team?
Popular Italian comics artist Francesco Francavilla does double-duty here as both the writer and artist on the series. 

Aside from this creator owned series, Francavilla is probably best known for his pulp-inspired comic books covers, mainly for publisher Dynamite, such as The Shadow, Green Hornet, and Zorro, and also for his work with writer Scott Snyder on a late run of pre-New 52 Detective Comics that features one of my favorite stories, "The Black Mirror."

Frequent readers of my blog may also be aware of Francavilla's blog, Pulp Sunday, which I've linked to over in the side-bar under "Comics Blogs and Online Comics." His current post is really fun - a re-imagining of Batman circa 1972 with a 70's exploitation/grindhouse type of theme - Batman wears a turtleneck and leather jacket, smokes, and drives a souped-up American car. There's also a re-envisioning of Catwoman as "Foxy Catwoman." You should check it out. The art on his blog is pretty much what you'll find in the pages of Black Beetle, so if you like that style, you should love the art in the comic.

Note that Francavilla also has a separate blog dedicated specifically to the Black Beetle, which you can find here

Who Will Like It?
This is a broadly appealing comic that will appeal to fans of pulp-era adventure, art-deco inspired art, and crime fiction. People who like the old-school original Golden Age Batman should also like this book quite a bit - there are a lot of similarities between the two characters, but the difference is that Black Beetle is really grounded in the setting and the time period and uses the story mainly as a way to showcase Francavilla's art.

I can't say enough positive things about the art - Francavilla's style combined with his layout choices are just perfect for this kind of story. He makes some interesting choices, such as having the panels "tumble" along with Black Beetle as he falls into a nest of rats, or an upward-slanting to the panels as Black Beetle climbs back out. People who appreciate strong visual story-telling should really give this book a chance.

Any Good Fodder for My Role-Playing Games?
There's plenty of great stuff in here for a pulp-era game using pretty much any system you choose - Savage Worlds, Gumshoe, d20 Modern, or even the old-school TSR classic Gang Busters.

The comic, as with last week's entry (JSA: The Liberty Files), is also a good example of how to introduce a pseudo-superhero type of character or theme into an otherwise straight "real-world" crime/pulp adventure. Black Beetle does not have any super-powers and his gadgets are pretty grounded in reality - there's no science-fiction or alien technology at work here.

GMs can also use the broadly drawn characters types, both good guys and bad guys, as inspiration for creating NPCs. There are plenty of names and personality traits you can steal, and you can show your players pictures of the characters right out of the comic so they know what they look like.

Is It Good for Kids?
Black Beetle doesn't seem to be rated by the Comics Code, so you'll have to use your best judgment. It's a crime-fiction adventure story with comic book violence (fisticuffs, some guns, knives, etc.). The language is tame, and there is no sex shown or (to date) even implied. The official website says it's for ages 12+, but I'd say this would be fine for a mature 7 or 8 year-old. It all depends on your tolerance for violence, but honestly the violence in this book is pretty tame compared to other books on the market.

THE BLACK BEETLE: NO WAY OUT
  • Format: 32-page full-color monthly comic (limited series)
  • Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. To find your closest shop, visit the Comic Shop Locator and enter your ZIP code. If you don't have a shop near you, you can buy the digital version on the Dark Horse website or always search around for it online. 
  • Price: $3.99 per issue
  • Rated: Ages 12+
  • More Information: Dark Horse Comics' page on Black Beetle.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Currently nothing, but drank a Firestone Walker Wookey Jack while writing the majority of this post yesterday.
Listening:"Rocker" by Miles Davis







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