Comic fans, you know the feeling — once in awhile you’re lucky enough go into your local shop on a Wednesday, spy a new title on the racks, and say to yourself “oh, hell yes.” Today I got to do that. And I got to say the same exact thing after I’d read the book. So I’m feeling pretty goddamn happy right about now.
The four-color “floppy” in question is issue number one of Shaft: Imitation Of Life, the debut installment of Dynamite Comics’ long-awaited four-part sequel to last year’s superb mini-series starring the black private dick who’s a sex machine to all the chicks by writer David F. Walker and artist Bilquis Evely, and while Evely’s off doing DC Comics Bombshells and other projects these days, Walker is back for round two and that’s the key thing because this guy gets the character of John Shaft every bit as much as Gordon Parks, Richard Roundtree, and even his creator, Ernest Tidyman, ever did. In fact, it’s fair to say that the Shaft we were presented with in Walker’s first story (as well as in his superb Shaft’s Revenge novella, originally available only digitally but now also out in paperback from Dynamite) was probably the most humanized take on this bad mutha — shut your mouth! — that we’ve ever seen in any medium, and the fact that he was able to add a level of depth and complexity to an already, as Isaac Hayes said, “complicated man” without compromising his essential bad-assness in any way, shape, or form, speaks volumes about his skills as an author. If you want to know why people have been so jazzed up about this guy being chosen to head up Marvel’s Power Man And Iron Fist relaunch (which hits next week!), well — the work he did on Shaft is the reason. And now he’s back for more.
Shaft: Imitation Of Life starts off right in the thick of some nasty shit, with John putting the wraps on a high-profile, high-body count case that eats away at his soul every bit as much as his Vietnam experiences (as detailed in the first series) did, and he consequently decides that some much-needed R&R is in order. Still, a few months sitting on the sidelines is all it takes for a man of action to get restless, and when he gets “back in the game” he decides to take on a missing persons case that no one else will touch due to the homophobia rampant at the time. Now, you might think that seeing John put himself in harm’s way protecting a, in his words, “fairy” in an alley fight might seem out of character, but let’s never forget that this is a man who will “risk his neck for his brother man.” Heck, by the end of this first issue, Shaft’s even got himself a gay Latino sidekick — but still hasn’t compromised his macho “street cred” one bit.
As far as the art goes, while I do think Evely was a perfect choice last time around, new penciller/inker Dietrich Smith definitely delivers the goods, as well, and has something of a more refined line to his style that gives things a slightly more “polished” feel without being too smooth. A good Shaft story should always be at least a little bit rough around the edges and I’m pleased to say the visual feel for this book gets that delicate balance more or less exactly right. The stylistic homage to Jacen Burrows’ “fixed camera” four-panel horizontal grids in Providence that Smith showcases in the early going of this issue really made me smile, as well — and do I even need to tell you how way-beyond-fucking-perfect Matthew Clark’s cover is? Nope, you’ve already seen it at the top of this review.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves — the comic-book version of John Shaft is now Walker’s baby, and frankly I can’t conceive of anyone else even wanting to take the reins if and when he decides he’s had enough. His stock-in-trade with the character is to put him in new and/or unfamiliar situations and use them to show sides of his personality that we’ve both never seen before and instinctively know to be “true,” and while it may seem like sacrilege to some to make the comparison, I think he’s proving himself to be the closest thing the comics world has ever seen, and maybe even will ever see, to the legendary Iceberg Slim.
Yeah, he really is that good. And so is this comic. So get your punk ass up out the house and go pick up Shaft: Imitation Of Life #1 right the fuck now, sucka.