Last year saw the long-awaited return to the printed page of John Shaft in the form of David F. Walker’s 6-part comic book prequel to the Ernest Tidyman novels, Shaft: A Complicated Man. The book was a superb re-introduction of the character in a story which added depth to Tidyman’s creation and was loaded with late 1960s New York atmosphere, enhanced by Bilquis Evely’s evocative art work. There was the promise of more to come from Dynamite Entertainment and in 2016 Dynamite delivered more.
Shaft’s Revenge, also penned by David F. Walker, was published on 10 February (having been serialised the previous year via a QR download to smart phones) and was the first prose novel to feature the character since Tidyman’s The Last Shaft (1975). Walker deftly slotted this into Shaft’s timeline some time between Shaft’s Big Score! (1972) and Shaft Has a Ball (1973). He took Tidyman’s character outline and expanded on Shaft’s history as well as introduced a memorable new gangster in the offbeat form of Linwood “Red Linny” Morton. The story stayed true to Tidyman’s prose style, whilst again adding depth to Shaft’s character and Walker left room for further adventures. Jeff Kingston Pierce commented in his year end round-up at Kirkus that “David F. Walker does an estimable job of capturing Tidyman’s third-person style, and there’s plenty of sex and violence to be had in these pages…which is exactly what any Shaft fan would expect.”
February also saw the beginning of a four-part run of Walker’s follow-up comic book, Shaft: Imitation of Life. This second run took a different approach both in story and visually, with Dietrich Smith providing more colourful and gritty, if less stylised, art work. Whereas in A Complicated Man, Shaft had been drawn true to Tidyman’s vision of his character, in Imitation of Life pressure from Dynamite made sure Shaft took on the image of his movie persona as portrayed by Richard Roundtree. The story was less successful, introducing elements of self-reference and satire that are intended as pointed criticisms of the approach supposedly to be taken in New Line’s planned reboot of the movie franchise that Walker had taken exception to. Still, there were enough strong moments to satisfy fans of the first comic book. The issues ran through to 25 May and a trade paperback version is set to be published in February 2017.
In its press release in May 2014, Dynamite had promised to republish all seven of Tidyman’s original novels. 2016 saw them begin this process and Shaft (1970) was duly published on 20 July with cover art by Robert Hack. Whilst I had issues with the text format (indents too deep, for example), it was great to see a Tidyman original back in print. The books also contained a preview for Shaft Among the Jews (1972), which promised a swift follow-up. There was also an Italian publication of the novel.
Sadly, apart from the trade paperback publication of Shaft: Imitation of Life, there is no further news on future Shaft releases via Dynamite at this point. The comic book and novel sales have not been spectacular and this may cause Dynamite to re-evaluate their strategy. It is to be hoped we will see more from Walker as he has a real feel for the character and I know he has more Shaft stories he wants to tell. In the meantime, I am optimistic Dynamite will at least deliver on their promise and complete the reprint of the originals.
As for the proposed movie re-boot. There has been no further news on development since New Line’s response to fan (and in particular Walker’s) criticism of their proposed, more “comedic”, take on the character in August 2015 when producer John Davis stated, “It’s a reinvention of the story so that it’s both fresh and harkens back to what we love about that character. It’s drama, but it’s going to be drama with a lot of fun moments. A lot of lighter moments.” The movie seems to be stuck in development hell. Some may see this as a good thing and an indication that a re-think may be in order. In my view, New Line would be best advised to adapt Walker’s Shaft: A Complicated Man as this is a superb re-introduction of the character that would make a great movie.