Shaft #1 Review

Skeptical going in to Shaft #1 but came out surprised and entertained. You will too.

Official Description from DYNAMITE:
Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine with all the chicks? Shaft! Created by author Ernest Tidyman, and made famous in a series of novels and films, iconic hero Shaft makes his comic book debut in an all-new adventure. He’s gone toe-to-toe with organized crime bosses, stood up to the cops, squared off against kidnappers, and foiled assassination attempts. But who was John Shaft before he became the hardboiled investigator with a reputation as big as New York City itself?

I found it interesting that Dynamite decided at this point to do a Shaft comic. It doesn’t seem to me that it has much of a chance of finding a young audience who even know about the iconic seventies character much less invest the time in a comic about him. Hell, I’m a child of the seventies and don’t know much more than a bit of history of John Shaft. And even with the most recent movie incarnation of Shaft by Samuel Jackson, I was a little apprehensive going in to this series.

Shaft #1 coverFortunately I can say that I throughly enjoyed the first issue. Writer David Walker tells a straight up tale of Shaft as a boxer who must decide whether or not to take a dive or go out fighting. For the uninitiated, Shaft would never take a dive and much of the issue focuses on his backstory as a troubled youth who went into the military to fight in combat. Hence his willingness to fight the good fight against corruption.

There’s plenty of thinly veiled 1970’s exploitation but mostly in the form of words and racial slurs. African American and Italian slurs alike but the dreaded “N” word it treated very cautiously and cleverly. Walker understands the times as they were then and as they are now and meets in a nice middle ground. The best part of the story is Shaft’s background and it sets the stage for the tough, no non-sense, honest, fighter Shaft has become and who he will be moving forward.

While the criminal premise is not unique it certainly fits the circumstances of what Shaft is at it’s essence. No frills, in your face tough guy action with just enough heart to maintain his rough exterior. Bilquis Evely paints a very well paired set of panels to match the story. It starts at the end of 1968 and Evely uses enough time-period style so it fits but feels more classical than rough around the edges 1970’s. Clean lines, tight framing are very impactful and make what could be very static situations feel more alive and intimate.

Bottom line is that Shaft #1 was much more than I gave it credit for and much more than I had preconceived. It still may have a tough time finding an audience but fans of hardboiled crime comics and the like should give Shaft #1 a try. I was pleasantly surprised by Walker and Evely’s take and would recommend this book to fans of not only crime but just good, gritty self-made heroes who will risk everything while doing the right thing. Shaft is entertaining and even a like bit motivational and you don’t need to be a fan of the seventies to enjoy Shaft #1, you just need to be a fan of solid storytelling.

  • + Great hardboiled crime feel
  • + Clean, well defined art
  • - Young fans may be put off by 70's vibe
  • + Inspirational, tough leading character

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