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Shaft - Volume One: A Complicated Man

    Ian Jane

  • Shaft - Volume One: A Complicated Man

    By Todd Jordan and Ian Jane

    Shaft - Volume One: A Complicated Man
    Released by: Dynamite Entertainment
    Released on: October 28st, 2015.
    Written by: David Walker
    lllustrated by: Bilquis Evely
    Purchase From Amazon

    Dynamite Entertainment presents a prequel to the events that take place in the famous Blaxploitation movie of the same name, putting the hero John Shaft in the boxing arena in late 1968. Shaft's tour in 'Nam interrupted his blossoming fighting career but now that he's back from Vietnam he's back in the game. Ready to make his mark in a big fight, Shaft is taken aback when threatened by violence if he doesn't lose the fight. Not to be bullied, threatened, or otherwise fucked with, Shaft does exactly what you would hope he would do and does what he pleases.

    The gangster trying to pull Shaft's strings is a man named Junius Tate and he runs Harlem. And the mobster named Mr. Sal is the one pulling on Tate's strings. Neither man is happy about the decision Shaft makes concerning the boxing match and once they catch up to him things will not be pretty. Tate employs a former contender named Bamma Brooks as his muscle, and who is of course in charge of teaching the punk-ass Shaft a lesson. He also gives Shaft some advice he'd best well heed.

    As Shaft continues to try to find his identity in his post-Vietnam life, and applying for a job seems to be the first step in the right direction. He takes a position with a security outfit as an undercover shopper at the department store Gimbles. There he meets a sweet young lady named Arthela, who works in cosmetics, and the two become an item very quickly. A job he's good at and a blooming relationship in his life… things are looking up for Mr. Shaft.

    That is until two men barge into her apartment looking for dancer named Marisol Dupree who was last known to be living with Arthela. Catching Shaft in his skivvies, the two men have the upper hand and an available handgun so Shaft doesn't put up a fight. He knows he could have taken the two out, but for fear of his lady friend's safety he goes along with one of them to look for this Marisol person. The other of the two intruders stays behind with Arthela, she should be safe. It turns out these two thugs aren't the only ones looking for Marisol, and Shaft meets up with some white gangsters at Ike & Ron's Cocktail Lounge that ends messily for most involved. Something else Shaft learns about this situation: the people he ran into at Ike & Ron's are part of an organization that are involved in far more than just some money owed them by a dancer, and there are more than just three gangsters with whom he had a discussion.

    After some questioning at the police station, John Shaft is let loose at the suggestion of his new boss, who happens to be friends with the man in charge. The cops see him as a suspect in the murder of his lady friend Arletha, but Shaft's boss says to let him go. You want to find out what's going on, he says, let that young man loose and let him do the detecting for them. John Shaft has instincts like you wouldn't believe.

    Shaft has some clues and it leads him to the hideout of a gangster who's still pissed at him for not throwing his last boxing match, and as payback he wants Shaft to work off the debt. It's exactly what the private dick wants, putting himself out there to get picked up by the gangsters, and hey look at that: the guy running the show with that bunch of thugs has some peculiar bandages on his cheek. According to the autopsy report, Arletha has the skin of a white man under her fingernails…hmm…two plus two Shaft, two plus two…

    While John Shaft dwells on his number one agenda, vengeance, an old acquaintance pays him a visit at the local jiggle joint. Bamma Brooks has come to pick up Shaft and bring him for a visit with The Man. Brooks' boss Junius Tate and Vernon Gates, one of New York's most powerful men, want Shaft's help in finding the missing Marisol Dupree and the package she has in her possession. Arletha's involvement with Marisol is what got Shaft's love killed in the first place, so Shaft is on board. He was on board anyway, but that's beside the point.

    A bit of a test on Shaft's abilities gets a little complicated, but Bamma seems to have a soft spot for the Vietnam vet and makes sure he takes care of the small mess for Shaft. While Bamma's working on that, it leaves Shaft to work his lead to find the chick and the package. And because Shaft is smarter than all the rest, he knows just where to look. And so he does just that, but is he really on the right track or is there a lot more to this than he realizes?

    The team of Walker and Evely impress with their comic book rendition of the famous 70s movie stud, putting out a stellar six issue run. The drama unfolds at a steady pace and with characters that really come off the page with personality. These two work so well together on this title that it's tough to say who deserves the credit more for how believable and realistic the characters are. Their work here as a team just gels in the way that a good creative team should. John Shaft is portrayed as a tortured soul dealing with the horrors of the Vietnam War, his difficult youth, and now the cold-blooded murder of the woman he loved more than anyone on the planet. He's pissed, he's alone, and he's dangerous. But he's cool and collected; calculating might be a better word. Walker avoids the easy trappings of making a mockery of the genre and instead does what Gordon Parks did with the original movie: make a good crime story that happens to feature a black man as the main character. Walker gives nods here and there to the movie, like with some dialogue (“you're a complicated man, John Shaft”) but it's nothing more than a nod. He keeps things realistic and leaves out the parody or tongue-in-cheek business. And he writes great dialogue too, making good use of the vernacular of the period and throwing in plenty of bigotry to intensify the mood of the book.

    This is a straight-forward R-rated type of drama with excellent artwork from Bilquis Evely, and a book very much deserving of attention. It's realistic but still very artistic, with some great city scenery making for the perfect backdrop and really nice depictions of the various characters that inhabit it. There's a depth to the illustrations that suit the dark 'R-rated' storytelling style Walker employs and the coloring from Daniela Miwa gives things the right sort of seventies flavor that a good Shaft story needs.

    This trade paperback edition from Dynamite not only collects all six issues of the storyline but it also includes a new introduction from writer Shawn Taylor as well as some interesting bonus material. First up in that department is 'Designing Shaft' which is some preliminary artwork from Walker with some text explaining how he went about bringing Shaft to the comic book page and why he made some of the decisions that he made. We also get some script pages and some black and white artwork pages accompanied by side by side representations of the color work. On top of that, there's a cover gallery - the main covers for each issue are incorporated into the main part of the trade itself but in the back pages the variants are all collected.

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