Sporting snappy new trade dress to call attention to this debut, “Shaft” #1 dials up the wayback machine to a story set in 1968, written by David F. Walker and drawn by Bilquis Evely. This comic book is easily approachable for any reader, regardless of their familiarity with John Shaft or blaxsploitation.
Walker’s story is bold and unfiltered. It comes across as a period piece that revisits a harsher, less tolerant time filled with racial slurs and gang influence. Introducing readers to John Shaft at a critical juncture in the young man’s life, Walker is able to supply a backstory and build an origin without dredging through excessive amounts of flashback or overbearing caption boxes. Walker serves as his own letterer throughout “Shaft” #1, which helps keep the story and art snappy and clean.
Shaft is given a strong recommendation to take a dive in his fight with Jack “Hammer” Feldman, which is the book’s central development. Told to take a dive by Junius Tate (who is perhaps named as a wink and a nod to film publicist, Junius Griffin, who coined the term “Blaxploitation” and Dennis Tate from the original “Shaft” film), Shaft reminds readers that what you choose to fight for defines who you are. Walker is more eloquent that that, serving up a refrigerator magnet-worthy quote, “How we fight determines how we live. How we live is determined by the choices we make when we fight.” That is clearly going to define Shaft and this series going forward.
The immediate antagonist to Shaft, Tate has a penchant to declare things like “dependable” and “incentive” as his middle name throughout the entire comic. This gets to be laughable by the second time he does so, but as the comic progresses, Walker shows reader the bad guy of the piece is all bluster, as denoted by his character trait of assuming middle names.
The story itself is a strong, gripping read, easy to approach and adhesive upon contact, but “Shaft” #1 is elevated by fantastic art from Bilquis Evely. Her art is filled with stunning amounts of detail and would be astonishing in grayscale, but Daniel Miwa’s colors are on target throughout this comic book, right down to the “ugly” shades and tones of late-1960s fashion and adding tone to Junius Tate’s fake front tooth. Evely’s style would be great for superheroes or every day adventures, and fits the story of John Shaft — a comic book legend in the making and an established one in other media — perfectly. Evely delivers a wide range of anatomy, expressions and action that keep “Shaft” #1 moving along magnificently.
Shaft runs into Bamma Brooks, once a role model to our titular protagonist, who sets the path for John Shaft to follow. Walker, Evely and Miwa give readers a thick, fun comic book filled with intrigue and rich developments, guiding Shaft down that path. “Shaft” #1 is a strong debut from Dynamite Entertainment and one that has my attention. This comic book doesn’t kowtow to the legend set before, choosing instead to construct a new one all its own.