by David Walker and Bliquis Evely
Dynamite Entertainment, through David Walker and Bliquis Evely, have brought the iconic character of Shaft, created by Ernest Tidyman, to the comic book medium. With a gorgeous cover by Bill Sienkiewicz that conjures the images, music and tone of the character and the films that have come before it, the series looks to be a fun romp. But David Walker and Bliquis Evely have more to say with Shaft than another retro, fast-talking detective story. In fact, readers might not even realize this is the same character. The first issue of Shaft looks to introduce readers to the man before he became the character most might recognize. What comes of this intention is an unexpected, but very well made introductory story.
What do people stand for? And more importantly, when do people choose to stand or choose to lie down? Walker introduces readers to a man who struggles with that very question. John Shaft is no stranger to violence and tough times and given the circumstances he faced, Shaft chose to join the army rather than be sent to prison. Over the first portion of the chapter, Walker cuts between Shaft’s childhood, the battlefield and who he is today. Today, though, is not the modern-day, and Bliquis Evely does an excellent job capturing the right visuals for this setting. The story seems to take place in continuity with when Shaft would have been in his early twenties. Also including moments from the war, and his earlier life, Evely not only dresses the scenery well, but also shifts his choices of colors and lighting to differentiate the varying periods. Evely’s interspersing of the many fights and difficult moments of Shaft’s life thus far as parallels of the same, ongoing struggle work impressively well. In a condensed amount of space, Evely and Walker are able to show the readers a good range of Shaft in just a few pages and its rather engaging.
The major story of the opening chapter is that Shaft is a boxer, and in the world of boxing, the fights are often not up to the fighters. Enter local pusher Junius and his muscle and Shaft is expected to throw the fight. Even the construction of how this is revealed and what information Walker conveys about the members of Junius’ outfit comes as a surprise. Walker avoids pure linear flow and, through his arrangement of the narrative, he manages to lay in numerous parallels across characters. This approach keeps the narrative from ever feeling predictable or obvious. Instead, the experience of reading through Shaft #1 is refreshing. Evely fills a number of his panels with close-ups of the characters. There are not a lot of wide shots, and this tight focus displays the facial expressions and emotions of the individuals very clearly. Walker can focus on the story and dialogue and leave space for his artist to take care of so many other elements that lend to an impressively developed first issue.
Though it is not apparent from the cover, Shaft #1 is a something of a prequel. It’s got an attitude, a grit, and it deserves more attention than it might otherwise get. The series may eventually shift into something more recognizable for those familiar with the character and the property, but for now Shaft is the story of a man trying to make the best of situation. Backed into a corner in the first issue, John Shaft’s story that Walker is telling is compelling and absolutely worth seeking out.