By Jarrod Jones. When was the last time you took in the entirety of your local retailer’s new release shelves? How many comic books have you glossed over in your search for the tried and true? (Or failing that, the tried and tiresome?) There’s more than at least twenty books that you willfully ignore, isn’t there? Maybe thirty? Fifty?
It’s all right. I’m guilty of it too. It’s easier to keep trudging through the same, familiar material. To return to these serialized sagas provides a feeling not dissimilar to coming home, and besides, more often these stories soak up most of our available time, energy, and cash. It’s brand recognition. It’s nostalgia. It’s safe.
After a while, there simply isn’t room for anything else. And as challenging and exciting as these stories can be, after months and months that lead into years of the familiar, a voice will inevitably manifest inside of your mind, asking, “isn’t there more?”
You know there is. You keep walking past it. And it’s time to stop.
Because, I’m telling you, David F. Walker and Bilquis Evely’s Shaft does what those other comics do, only better. And it has salt. Chutzpah. If a comic book could be considered “young and hungry,” Shaft would be it. The only thing it has to lose is its very life. That’s right; there’s only one issue left. And you almost missed it.
Five issues into a six-issue mini-series, Walker and Evely’s bold neo-noir has successfully accomplished things so many other books can only attempt to do: it doesn’t merely establish an origin story for its leading man, private eye John Shaft, it makes him a living, breathing person. One who transcends both the intellectual property acquired by Dynamite Entertainment and the confident swagger of Richard Roundtree. It’s a book that affixes the tropes that come with the crime genre to a reverential grasp of American history. Shaft does all this while compounding a damn fine compelling story filled with shady characters, damsels in distress, and a man who holds the burden of the entire world on his back. It’s the stuff of high cinema, and here it is waiting to be held in your hands.
Walker is a man who knows the art of storytelling down to his bones, and the way he spins this lurid yarn is an exercise in narrative restraint. Walker takes the time to show John Shaft walk the beleaguered streets of Harlem with an inquisitive look on his face, as if he was absorbing every face, every detail for future use. And this version of Shaft proves to be an appropriately moody narrator; a no-nonsense fellow who’s had his fill of bullshit — or at least a man who can’t be bothered to dress up his metaphors: John takes a cup of coffee and adds salt and pepper to illustrate to someone how pear-shaped his situation has become, which is a hilarious quirk that we know will one day manifest itself into something far more grander. (“And now you can see my coffee is fucked up.“)
Walker’s Shaft owes a tremendous debt to Bilquis Evely’s artwork. Walking alongside John Shaft on what has become his first case gives us an immediacy that’s informed by every line and detail Evely provides, and through her attention to detail we’re given a complete and habitable world to explore. Evely’s lines have a clinical precision that easily recalls the work of Optic Nerve‘s Adrian Tomine, and coupled with Daniela Miwa’s incredibly nuanced colors, Shaft boasts a sophistication one wouldn’t typically associate with a book coming from Dynamite Entertainment. This is the gleaming jewel that rests on top of the publisher’s crown.
I only hope they realize that. Because at issue #5, Shaft is but one issue away from ending its extremely short run, and it’s nowhere near enough. As far as an origin story is concerned, Walker’s vivid telling goes above and beyond the call that’s normally expected from such tales. To mine a long-existing intellectual property that’s as instantly iconic as Shaft and yield such wonderfully rich results is a true rarity. Something this good only deserves the chance to continue.
Because when your retailer’s wall is filled to the brim with comic books that all beg for your attention, there’s one thing you’d do well to remember: only so many of them are deserving of it.
Written by David F. Walker.
Art by Bilquis Evely.
Colored by Daniela Miwa.
10 out of 10