I don’t think there is a soul alive who does not know who John Shaft is but on the off chance I will give a brief run down. Shaft was one of the most successful blaxploitation movies to come out of the 70s based on the book of the same name and starring Richard Rowntree as private detective John Shaft. During the course of his adventures he never backs down from anyone regardless of how powerful they are, always works by his own morales and seems to always be fighting against organised crime.
This story presented to us in issue one is a prequel of sorts, taking us back to when Shaft was still a young man learning the rules of the street. As an up and coming prize fighter Shaft is ordered to take a fall by a powerful gang leader in order to fix the fight. From there we get to follow Shaft through his decision making process and learn what events have shaped his life up to this point.
I suppose you could consider this book a period piece, it is set during a very different time and this is reflected in Walker’s writing. All too often we are presented with very politically correct versions of the 70s with everyone speaking the way we do now which honestly, is a little disingenuous. Thankfully Walker avoids this all together by writing this in the exact format the movies and tv series used. Make no mistake, people are going to get offended by this book if they read it out of context, however it is important to remember just when these movies were made and how the characters acted and spoke because it is part of the series DNA.
This book is full of racism on both sides, the contempt between the white Italian gang and their black counterparts is completely tangible and it is humorous to see them both utter slurs under their breath at each other. Junius Tate who is running as the stories main antagonist plays the fool in front of Sal who runs the Italian mob in the area but he is clearly a much smarter man than he pretends to be. The second he is out of earshot of Sal he changes from the jovial fool into a serious and deadly individual.
I briefly mentioned it before but the dialogue is 100% authentic to the era and the movies created at that time. It never feels forced or false and yet its distinctive enough that you cant help but notice and smile as they exchange insults.
Evely does a great job on art, the characters that we do know are faithfully reproduced whilst the new comers all look perfectly in place. In a lot of ways the pencil work mimics the blaxploitation comics from the era and does a great job of making it feel like was printed at that time. Miwa’s colours deliberately stick to a darker and deliberate use of primary colours again giving the book a very specific and authentic feel. The temptation with a lot of these books is to modernise the colour schemes and pencil work which is the wrong thing to do as it takes away from the “classic” look and feel. The artistic team do a great job of supplementing Walker’s story telling and dialogue in the correct way making it look old but not so much that it appears dated.
This is a great book and the first issue is off to an excellent start, we have not previously seen a lot of Shaft’s past in any other medium so this book gives some insight into the character’s journey into one of the coolest and unique creations ever to arrive on the big screen. All of the pieces are there but they do not yet fit together to create the John Shaft we all know and love and I personally cant wait to see him change into his future self. It is a fast paced read and with all the action going on you likely wont take long to finish it but I have no doubt that like me you will be left wanting more when you reach that final panel.
This is probably not a book for everyone, I was around at the end of the era when Shaft was still a household name and meant something to people so for me this book rekindles that interest and gives insight to the greater world around him. I have no idea how someone born only a decade ago would view this given that the only Shaft they will be aware of is the cool but flawed Samuel L Jackson version of the character from the mid 2000s. I would highly recommend that everyone takes a left through the preview to make sure this book is for them, I personally enjoyed it and will be picking up the next issue as a matter of course. If you like noir story telling with a bit of 70’s jive mixed in (or that idea sounds cool to you) I say give it a chance and pick up the first issue, I wasn’t disappointed and you wont be either.