SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE (2016, Dynamite Entertainment, 4 issues, 4 x 32 pp) ∗∗∗∗
Shaft Created by Ernest Tidyman
Written and Lettered by David F. Walker
Illustrated by Dietrich Smith
Coloured by Alex Guimares
Cover by Matthew Clark
Cover Colours by Vinicius Andrade
Blurb: The only thing John Shaft wanted was a simple case, one where no one got hurt or killed. He figured working as a consultant on a low budget film would be easy money. He was wrong… dead wrong.
David Walker’s second Shaft comic book series, which follows last year’s excellent Shaft: A Complicated Man, has an altogether different tone to that hard-hitting debut. There is a dark satirical feel to a story that explores the underbelly of the sleazy porn industry in 1970s New York. Not only does Walker tackle this in graphic detail, but he also challenges Shaft’s own homophobic viewpoint by having his client/sidekick be a gay teenager. Finally with Shaft also hired as consultant to a Blaxploitation movie, which turns out to be a horrendous parody of the real Shaft film, Walker throws his own punches at the producers of the new Shaft film in development – which is reported to be taking a more comedic tone.
The opening sequence replays the end of Tidyman’s Shaft novel with the rescue of the kidnapped Beatrice Persons, daughter of Harlem crime lord Knocks Persons, from the Mafia. The remainder of the first issue deals with Shaft being hired to trace a missing teenage boy and in the process hooking up with Tito, a gay teenager. The plot diverges in issue 2 toward Shaft being hired as consultant on a Blaxploitation movie based on his life. Over the next two issues the two plot strands come together as the movie’s star is kidnapped by “Lollipop” Lou Peraino who runs the Mafia funded porn industry and, having funded the movie, is owed money. Shaft plans and leads a rescue attempt and in the process finds the missing teenager at Peraino’s porn film factory.
This series features the art work of Dietrich Smith (replacing the more textural Bilquis Everly) and the bold colouring of Alex Guimares. Together they create a colourful view of 1970s NYC and present memorable characters that complement perfectly Walker’s tough script. There is an excellent sequence at the start of issue 3 in Shaft’s office where he is in discussion with two NYPD vice cops that is beautifully illustrated. In turn, Walker continues to have fun with Tidyman’s creation and obviously enjoys exploring the more satirical aspects of his story.
Whilst Shaft: Imitation of Life doesn’t quite match the levels of brilliance of its predecessor, it is still an entertaining ride with aspects of social commentary added to a winning formula. Here’s looking forward to a third series from Walker and co. very soon.