Indie Comics Spotlight: The Black Beetle, Freelancers 3, Archer & Armstrong

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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.

Freelancers  #3

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.


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