Written by Guest Contributor: Jason DiGioia If you’re expecting, as Dynamite puts it, “the black private dick that’s a sex machine with all the chicks,” you might be pleasantly surprised with Shaft #1. In what is amazingly Shaft’s first appearance in comics, we meet a much younger man before all the dick and chick stuff. Shaft is a Vietnam vet and boxer who decides he’s not going to take a dive for the local mafia boss. As you might expect, this choice comes at a high cost, and by the end of the issue, Shaft wonders what he will do with the rest of his life now that he has a target on his back. My guess is become a badass private dick, but there’s probably more backstory to tell before we get there.
David F. Walker has done a hell of a job crafting a believable, entertaining backstory for the titular character. Each flashback we see, whether it’s a battle scene in Vietnam or some heavy bag work with Shaft’s idol and mentor, reverberates with the themes Walker establishes early in the issue: fighting, as opposed to simply boxing, as a determinant of how we live; and making choices that affect the way we live. Shaft isn’t apologetic, and he certainly doesn’t show any regret for his decisions. There’s plenty of backstory I hope Walker plays with in future issues, from Shaft’s time in Vietnam and his eventual (likely unceremonious) homecoming, to his pre-Vietnam days of crime. The fact that I’m thinking about these is a credit to Walker’s ability to give us meaningful backstory in a way that really just scratches the surface of a complex character. After all, this is only issue 1.
If there’s one thing I hate in comics, it’s banal dialogue. Thankfully, Walker’s is smooth and authentic. In a way, his writing reminds me of this particular Shaft he’s created. He doesn’t lie down for anyone. The dialogue is rife with racial slurs thrown about by the black and Italian gangsters alike. When I saw the word “junglebunny” come out of the white gangster’s mouth, I was a little shocked. Imagine how I felt when those racial slurs got much more intense. It’s a crucial story development decision to have racism out in the open. It opens up a world of bigotry that this book needs to stay credible. “Motherfuckers” are also used as a kind of liberal seasoning to remind us that we’re not in Gumdrop Land. We’re in the middle of two criminal organizations that don’t value human life, and sheeee-it, those types of people don’t say “freakin’” and “crap”.
On the art side, Bilquis Evely is fantastic. All of his characters have physical personality on the pages. Shaft is stone-cold, while the slimier characters ooze scumbag all over the pages. Evely’s attention to fashion of the late 60s is obviously important to create an immersive universe, and he nails that as well. I can’t wait for plaid pants to make a comeback.
Even though I’ve never seen a Shaft film, I came into this book with certain expectations. After all, I’ve seen clips and I know a little about the genre. Thankfully, my expectations were trampled in a hurry. If you’re a fan of mature, believable dialogue, a complex protagonist, massive story potential, and great artwork, you will thank yourself for picking up Shaft #1.
Writer: David F. Walker Artist: Bilquis Evely Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/3/14 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital