Comic Book Review: SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE – PART ONE: BEFORE AND AFTER (2016)

SHAFT: IMITATION OF LIFE – PART ONE: BEFORE AND AFTER (10 February 2016, Dynamite Entertainment, 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: After a high profile case that put him in the headlines, private detective John Shaft is looking for something low profile and easy that will keep him out of the spotlight and out of danger. Shaft takes a missing person case that proves to be more difficult than he initially thought. At the same time, he is hired to be a consultant on a low budget film that may or may not be based on his life, and proves to be as dangerous as any job he’s ever had. But when there’s danger all about, John Shaft is the cat that won’t cop out – even if it means squaring off against sadistic gangsters that want him dead.

David Walker returns to Shaft for a second comic book series. This one will run to four issues (compared to the six for 2014/15’s Shaft: A Complicated Man).

Walker’s second story takes place some two months after the events of Ernest Tidyman’s novel Shaft. His use of first person narration allows the reader into Shaft’s mind as he explains the events in his life that created the violent monster that lies within him over a reprise of the rescue of Beatrice Persons (daughter of Harlem crime lord Knocks Persons) from the Mafia in Tidyman’s original novel. The voice Walker gives Shaft remains true to the character we read and learn about in Tidyman’s books, but where Tidyman would merely reference these events Walker chooses to explore their effect on Shaft’s psyche, thereby adding significant depth to his character.

Walker has a strong understanding of the John Shaft of the books and for fans there are some nice nods to that series here. But the main set-up for this story is Shaft being hired to find an up-state couple’s young gay son – Mike Prosser, who has come to New York in search of adventure. Walker does not shy away from Shaft’s homophobic attitude (very clear in Tidyman’s novels), but cleverly uses it as a way to get Shaft to look inwardly at his personal motivations and prejudices. His only lead is another young gay man, Tito Salazar, who Shaft rescues from a beating by a group of bigots outside the famous Stonewall Inn.
The artwork here is by Dietrich Smith (taking over from Bilquis Evely). Smith’s style is less precise than Evely’s but he creates a great feel for the period and the streets of New York and Alex Guimares’ colouring is much more bold. In the first series Walker and Evely were keen to capture Shaft as Tidyman had described him (notably without the moustache that became synonymous with the character from Richard Roundtree’s portrayal on the big screen). Here, Walker and Smith wisely transition him to Roundtree’s familiar image and Smith does a great job in capturing Shaft’s iconic look.

This is an intriguing read and It will be interesting to see where Walker takes his story over the next three issues. Based on this first issue Shaft: Imitation of Life promises to repeat the success of Walker’s exceptional first series.

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