Friday, April 13, 2018


A Mystery Tale by Francesco Francavilla
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot

When I looked at Francesco Francavilla’s first “Black Beetle” adventure, NO WAY OUT, near the end of the year, I admitted that perhaps I was missing something. The story had received rave reviews from both the comics press and comics professionals, but I found it kind of an unnecessarily confusing and somehow simultaneously simplistic mystery. The artwork was gorgeous, but the story didn’t grab me, much as I wanted it to.

I now wonder if part of the problem was in the story’s length. NO WAY OUT was an adventure told in five full-length issues, and I didn’t really warm up to it. KARA BÖCEK, on the other hand, was serialized in DARK HORSE PRESENTS as a series of five six-page installments, for a total run-time of (carry the one...) thirty pages! Basically a single comic’s worth of material. And I find this story to be far more exciting, fast-paced, and all around appealing than NO WAY OUT.

(I should note again, as I did at the time, that NO WAY OUT featured a prologue chapter, unrelated to the main story, which featured the Black Beetle fighting Nazis at the Colt City museum, and that I found that prologue way more engaging than the subsequent storyline, so I really think I’m on to something with this idea that the Black Beetle works best in shorter, tighter-paced adventures.)

Set in 1934, KARA BÖCEK finds our mysterious hero visiting Istanbul on the trail of an ancient artifact in the possession of an old friend. But a troupe of Nazis is after the same object, leading to a high-speed car chase through the city, a suspenseful assassination attempt at a local hotel, and a final showdown in a cemetery. The Black Beetle escapes by speedboat, narrowly avoiding an encounter with a German seaplane, with his prize — a ray gun older than the pyramids.

Along the way we have the exotic trappings of pre-war Turkey, some dynamic action sequences, a sexy Nazi femme fatale, and more — all packed into a tightly paced, cliffhanger-laden serial evoking the sort of stuff that inspired Indiana Jones.

I admit that there’s probably more than just the condensed runtime working for KARA BÖCEK. The Nazis, for one thing — it’s hard to go wrong with a story set in the thirties where the protagonist mixes it up with the vilest villains the real world ever produced (note they were also the villains in the NO WAY OUT prologue I liked so much). And the setting, too — I was always a sucker for the rare occasions when Batman would leave Gotham City and go traipsing off to some exotic land, usually to confront Ra’s al Ghul, and this story evokes those in many ways. Plus, pre-war Turkey — at least as presented here — isn’t all that different from Cold War Turkey, which brings to mind one of my favorite James Bond movies, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

So with this installment, Francesco Francavilla has won me back. I was on the fence after NO WAY OUT, but I liked it enough to give the Black Beetle another chance, and KARA BÖCEK manages to avoid all the issues I had with the prior story. I’ll be on board for whatever comes next, and I’ll hope that Francavilla continues the policy he started here of running his story in a series of short but sweet, fast-paced chapters. It’s really the perfect way to do a pulp-influenced 1930s-era adventure like this.

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