Indie Comics Spotlight: The Black Beetle, Freelancers 3, Archer & Armstrong
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
The Black Beetle #1
Sometimes you need your stories hard-boiled like your eggs. Some people like their eggs that way, but just about everyone likes their stories that way. Those hard-boiled stories like The Black Beetle #1 from Dark Horse Comics, the first of four issues. The issue is written and directed by Francesco Francavilla. The Black Beetle is determined to bring down two of the biggest crime bosses in Colt City in Don Pasquale Galazzo and Joe Fierro. His mission is going according to plan: proper surveillance, the right equipment and most of the mafia families in one place at once. That is, until, the entire gathering is blown to smithereens by an unknown bomber. An eighteen-story fall and a visit to the Fort later, the Black Beetle finds out there’s more at play than just someone being angry at the mob families. The Black Beetle is an homage to characters of the past. Characters steeped in a created world full of crime where the police can’t be relied on to get the job done. Francavilla has successfully captured that atmosphere in The Black Beetle #1, crafting a world on the brink of chaos. When mob families are being killed in massive explosions, there’s something greater at play and it’s up to the Black Beetle to find out what it is. As a character, the Black Beetle will likely remind readers of Dick Tracy mixed with Batman. He uses a similar bag of tricks as the latter, with the desire for upholding the law of the former. Considering the bulk of the issue is all narration on the part of the Black Beetle, the fact that you still get a good sense of his character is impressive. He gets results and knows what he’s doing, both traits that will make the new villain in Colt City work for their anarchy. Francavilla is on the art duty as well and he uses some really creative page layouts. The majority of them don’t rely on the standard box format, using an array of designs to more fully immerse the reader in the world of the Black Beetle. Beyond the panel layouts, Francavilla has injected tons of pulp in the art through the stark lines and myriad of muted colors. The art just comes together very well and looks gorgeous. There’s always going to be a market and niche for the old school comics, back before digital comics and character deaths/revivals. Francavilla offers an extremely fresh take on the noir comic, making the Black Beetle more than just a detective with an axe to grind for whatever reason. The Black Beetle #1 is such a fun throwback comic that shows a lot of commitment on the part of Francavilla, relying entirely on a strong story, inventive lead character and vibrant artwork. The Black Beetle #1 is in stores now.
Orphans get a bad break in life. How about giving them intensive martial arts training and the opportunity to take on freelance contracts for money? The thought sounds good in principle, until some of the members of the club turn against the others. See Freelancers #3 from BOOM! Studios. The issue is written by Eriq Esquivel, illustrated by Joshua Covey, colored by Vladimir Popov and lettered by Pat Brosseau. Val and Cass continue to reel from the revelations that have played out in the last two issues. Revelations focused on Katherine Rushmore, a former colleague-turned-traitor who has re-signed with Drachmann, their mentor. Drachmann wants to re-open the studios and command some of the most powerful freelancers there are, but in making his offer he has some secrets of his own about their shared past. Esquivel keeps up the sassy dialogue among Val and Cass, with Katherine peppering in even more barbs. It’s the dialogue that really carries the book, as the story is very similar to the Executive Assistant stories from Aspen Comics. The concept of turning orphans into martial artist freelancers is creative though and hopefully the third issue is leading up to something of a strong finish. Covey’s art spends most of the work focused on the characters. There’s really little in the way of background detail, but there are some panels featuring 70’s-like action lines and effect. It grounds the comic in the campiness that it’s emulating found in Charlie’s Angels. The art is almost pays tribute to the style and feel of the time, carrying over into the work and matching the dialogue well. The ongoing series has some potential, showing off imaginative storylines in the first three issues. The third issue is a culmination of the past of Val and Cass, a past that possibly threatens to kill them if they’re not careful. The fact that the next issue is advertised as “Stuff Gets Real” should be an indication that things will get even crazier and more exciting. Freelancers #3 is in stores now.
Archer & Armstrong #6
Geomancers are rare in this world, so everyone will go to great lengths when one shows up. What makes a Geomancer even more powerful is their ability to endure, as evidenced by the latest one in Archer & Armstrong #6 from Valiant Entertainment. The issue is written by Fred Van Lente, illustrated by Emanuela Lupacchino, inked by Guillermo Ortega and colored by Matt Milla. When Kay McHenry isn’t a high-power spokesperson for a powerful oil company, she’s having flings with people of opposite viewpoints and struggle to keep plants alive. Life as a well-paid executive doesn’t quite compensate for the late nights Kay’s forced to keep, late nights which lead to a less than desirable direction for her. Meanwhile, Archer, Armstrong and Armstrong’s brother Gilad are desperately seeking the Geomancer’s successor. While this issue was relatively light on the Archer and Armstrong, but the story is still phenomenal. The bulk of the issue is focused on Kay’s newfound importance and while the main characters are pretty scarce, they’re still awesome. Kay’s role and the other characters allow the story to touch on everything from pirates (specifically Blackbeard) to global warning to the 1%. Van Lente keeps up the lighthearted tone in the book, despite the gravity of the stakes. Lupacchino’s pencils are wide-ranging. He manages to make Blackbeard look intimidating and tea with a monkey extremely intriguing. The fight scenes are illustrated well, effortlessly showing the myriad of fighting styles on display. Kay takes center-stage in the issue and she’s depicted in such a way that the reader can fully understand her lifestyle. The underwater scenes are drawn so crazily that they actually make sense in a weird way. Not many comics can strike the tone that Archer & Armstrong #6 manages, effortlessly delivering humorous punch-lines and quality action. Again, even though the main characters aren’t really in the comic, their presence still acts as an undercurrent in the comic, reminding you that they’re still doing their thing. The title is one of the best that Valiant is offering in their strong line-up and definitely worth your time. Archer & Armstrong #6 is in stores now.