John Shaft just can’t seem to catch a break. In Issue #1, his boxing career came to an abrupt end after he refused to take a dive. In Issue #2, he found love in Arletha Havens, only for her to be murdered. And Issue #3 has him being forced to work for the gangsters responsible, under threat of suffering the same fate.
This issue feels like a pot of water just before it starts to boil. Shaft is in a dark place, flashing back to his relationship with Arletha numerous times, and even having a dream that conflates her death with his time in Vietnam. The police haul him in for questioning, but his boss, Butch, convinces the Lieutenant to let him go so that Shaft can investigate on his own. It’s not long before the gangsters catch up to him and give our hero an ultimatum: Find the mysterious MacGuffin Marisol Dupree – or else! Of course, Shaft isn’t one to just let these killers go. But he’s also not stupid enough to take them on while they have the upper hand. So, he’s forced to bide his time.
What I like about this issue is that it takes the time to explore the emotional impact of Arletha’s murder on Shaft. Too many stories, in all media, use the death of a wife or girlfriend as a motivating force to get the ball rolling, only to never mention them again (except maybe at the end). Seeing as how Arletha was introduced in the same issue she was killed off in, this comic could have easily fallen into the same trap. Instead, Arletha’s murder actually feels like it has more impact in this issue than the previous one, precisely because the comic takes the time to have Shaft grapple with what happened to her. And it gives the story a solid emotional footing as it heads down the path to the inevitable confrontation between Shaft and the gangsters.
The art has also remained top-notch, especially in the various facial expressions of the characters. In Shaft’s case, in particular, it does a lot to inform his attitudes and set the tone to everything going on. The dream sequence is also well-done, as Shaft’s happy dream of marrying Arletha turns into a Vietnam nightmare.
If you like stories of hard-boiled detectives getting caught up in criminal organizations and murder, then Shaft is the one for you. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about the character, as this comic is actually a precursor to the movies. And it’s well worth checking out.
Shaft #3 is now available from Dynamite Comics.