Critical Blast takes a look at Dynamite's Shaft (You're damn right)

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When most people think of Shaft, they probably think of the Richard Roundtree movies. But, John Shaft was originally a character in a series of books by Ernest Tidyman. When I was researching this review, I also discovered they had done a series of TV Movies in 1973-1974 (also starring Richard Roundtree), though they were rotated with other TV movies which doomed the series to failure. There was also an attempt to revive the character back in 2000 with Samuel Jackson playing the title role.

When Dynamite announced they would be doing a Shaft series earlier this year, I was genuinely curious. Shaft was a little before my time, but I still knew a little about the character. If nothing else, Dynamite has a track record for breathing life into older licensed works, so I decided to check it out.

Shaft: A Complicated Man

Written by: David F. Walker
Art by: Bilquis Evely
Colored by: Daniela Miwa
Lettered by: David F. Walker

Published by: Dynamite
Cover Price: $19.99

Originally published as Shaft 1-6.

Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!

A Complicated Man is set some time before the original book and movie. It’s basically John Shaft’s origin story. In the first issue, he is a boxer who refuses to throw a fight, which puts him in bad with the mob. But he’s determined to stick to his morals, no matter what the consequences may be. As the series progresses, Shaft starts to work for a firm as a private investigator. But, his career is thrown off track when his girlfriend is killed trying to protect a friend who finds herself embroiled in a bigger conspiracy. Accused of murder, and determined to find the truth, Shaft finds himself once more standing up against the mob and corrupt New York City cops.

What I loved about this series is that it didn’t pull any punches. Big topics like racism and corruption are dealt with head on.  At the same time, there was still a great story here. It never felt like you were getting preached to. The characters never really felt like stand in’s just to help the writer make a point. There were definitely stereotypes like corrupt fight promoters and police, but they still managed to feel like real characters. That is a tricky balance to pull off well.

I also thought Shaft himself was a perfect hero for the story. A man who had seen and even done some horrible things (in the context of war), but at his core, he tries to be a decent and moral man. I was actually real bummed out when his girlfriend turned up dead. But, again, it all worked in the service of the story being told. Nothing about Shaft felt gratuitous.

It was also great to see Shaft at the beginning of his story. Most Shaft stories have him already pretty well established, but I definitely thought this fit as a strong origin story for the character. You can tell David Walker has a lot of respect for the character, and a strong desire to make him into a complex, heroic figure. He managed to pull it off brilliantly.

The art on this book was great too. Bilquis Evely did an excellent job bringing Shaft and the supporting cast to life. I often comment that I get so used to reading “superhero” comics, that often when I am reading comics with normal characters, it’s hard to tell them apart. And granted this did happen a few times here, but for the most part, most of the characters had a very distinct look to them. Evely also did a terrific job showing the violence that Shaft was surrounded by. From the boxing ring, to Vietnam, to the mob, this comic never shies away from showing violence. But again, what is most impress it that it all fits so well. I never once thought I was looking at violence for the sake of violence.

Denys Cowan and Bill Seinkiewicz did the covers, and they actually looked like movie posters. I did think it was odd that they looked a little more like Richard Roundtree than the interiors (I remember reading that David Walker was looking to make the comic more resemble the novels than the movies), but they are still gorgeous artwork.

After reading this book, my first question was “WHEN DOES SHAFT #7 COME OUT?” As far as I know, there has been no news about more Shaft books coming out from Dynamite. That’s a real shame as they did an excellent job with this one. Hopefully the trade will have some good sales, and inspire Dynamite to do more with the character. At the very least, I’d love for a version to show up in one of Dynamite’s many crossover stories. Can I propose Shaft Meets Green Hornet?

Written By: David F. Walker
Art By: Bilquis Evely
Company: Dynamite
Price: $19.99
  • Shaft's origin story
  • Lots of big ideas here done in a non-preachy way
  • Art was great, especially the covers.
Is it worth your $19.99? Definitely!  Dynamite puts together a great comic, and Walker/Evely were the perfect team to breathe new life into Shaft.
4.5 / 5.0