We meet Shaft at a point in his life before his days as a famous Harlem private detective. He is becoming that man, but before he gets there he’s got some choices to make. Walker details the choices Shaft has made up to this point and how they have helped shape him. He’s a boxer who has been fighting all of his life in some form or fashion. This particular fight means some big money for someone with an inside edge, and when asked to throw the fight, John has another choice to make. Make Junius Tate a happy man or make him a very unhappy man.
Walker works with a small group of characters here, and even though most of the focus is on Shaft, he doesn’t slack on the supporting cast. Gangsters Junius Tate and Mr. Sal are excellent antagonists as they seek the same goal, but their hatred for each other is pretty palpable. Walker has Tate play his position well when in the presence of Mr. Sal, with his dialogue and Evely’s artwork showing him as very willing to do whatever is asked, but the truth is always evident in his eyes. However, when out of his presence Tate’s change is noticeable, as he’s not all toothy grins and smiles, but the face of a man you don’t mess around with. When it comes to Shaft himself, Walker writes him with a hint of what made him cool in the movies, but also showcases a large portion of his humanity. This is what draws you into the character and makes you want to stay on this journey Walker has started in this comic.
Sometimes you’ll open a comic and the artwork is just near perfect from start to finish; that’s exactly what you’ll get from Evely in this issue! One very noticeable thing is that she’s not trying to make Shaft resemble Richard Roundtree, the actor that played him on film. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it was a nice decision. With that being said, the character illustrations are fantastic as she makes sure there’s an obvious visual difference in how the African American characters are drawn as opposed to the Italian and Caucasian ones. Too often they are all drawn the same, and it is left up to the colorist to let us know the race of a character. There is also an impressive amount of detail throughout the issue, and colorist Daniela Miwa just wows with the depiction of Shaft’s scars that, again, add to the authenticity of the differences of Black characters. I’ve seen too many colorists just add pink to a scar on a Black character and it just looks silly. Hopefully both Evely and Miwa can keep up this level of spectacular visual storytelling.
Walker’s script is a rough one that, at times, has harsh language and clearly depicts the racial issues of the late 60s. However, within that ugliness is the introduction to one of America’s greatest icons. So, regardless of your familiarity with Shaft, Walker makes it a very comfortable first issue that actually does what it is supposed to. So how do you improve on the legendary John Shaft? That answer is quite the easy one. You get David F. Walker and Bilquis Evely to deliver one of the best re-introductions to the character that would make the creator, Ernest Tidyman, proud. Now, can you dig that?