Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks? Shaft! Even if you haven’t seen the movies, or the TV show, or read the books, you’ve probably at the very least heard the iconic theme song. Which means that you’ve likely got some idea about who John Shaft is. But how much do you know about him, really? According to the song, he’s a complicated man, but what does that mean, and how did he get to be that way?
Shaft #1 seeks to answer these questions. It’s an origin story rather than a continuation of any of the past incarnations of the character. In other words, he’s not yet a detective, there are no women to be seen anywhere, and Shaft doesn’t even have a mustache! While some might see this as a risky move, I think it works to the comic’s advantage. After all, most folks today probably haven’t even seen the first movie. So it’s nice to know that you can jump into this series without needing any prior knowledge about the character.
The comic takes place, for the most part, in 1968, three years before the first movie. We learn that, before he was a private eye, Shaft was a boxer. On the night that he finally gets his shot at the big league, the mob comes calling, wanting him to take a dive. At this point, we get more insight into Shaft’s life up to that point: growing up in a rough neighborhood, getting into fights, being shipped off to Vietnam. The majority of the story, however, focuses on this one night that changes Shaft’s life.
Writer David F. Walker does an excellent job here. He’s made it clear in interviews that Shaft is a character that is near and dear to him, and he’s determined to do him right. And I’d say that he’s off to a good start. Too many origin stories retreat into portraying their main character as a generic, wide-eyed naïve kid. But Shaft in this comic has had a rough life. He’s been to war. He knows first-hand that choices have consequences, and he’s willing to face up to them. He’s a man of pride and integrity, and he doesn’t back down from a fight, even if he’s not entirely sure what he’s going to do once it’s done.
Bilquis Evely’s art is also extremely well-done. I’m particularly fond of her faces, which are varied and expressive.
As I said before, there are no women in this debut issue, so if you were looking forward to numerous sex scenes, it looks like you’ll have to wait until at least next month. That said, the comic still definitely earns its Mature rating, through the use of vulgar language that is peppered with ethnic slurs (some of which your humble, sheltered reviewer had to look up). Racism isn’t the main focus of this issue, but Walker doesn’t shy away from it either. This is 1968, after all.
All in all, this is a strong first issue. If you like Shaft, or even if you just like the song and have been wondering what this character is all about, check it out.
Shaft #1 is available December 3, 2014 from Dynamite Comics.