Apr 16 2015
The penultimate issue in David Walker’s new Shaft story has arrived and, while light on action, it’s arguably the high point of the series. Although John Shaft has been jostled, kicked around, and manipulated by a rogue’s gallery of Harlem antagonists until now, we finally see him discover the truths he’s been searching for ever since Arletha’s death.
Beyond the procedural development of the plot to a boiling point, we have two people to especially thank for the issue’s strength: Daniela Miwa and Bilquis Everly. Let it be said: Shaft #5 looks outstanding, with absorbingly rendered New York City imagery, incredibly effective colors, and precisely detailed draftsmanship that has not seen its equal in the series until this point. Now then, Shaft has been terrific throughout, for certain, but with this issue the art team has hit their stride and produced their finest work, going so far as to even incorporate lighting effects (like the shadows under trees) that I have not seen the team previously implement thus far. The art is sumptuous and emotionally evocative, bringing the reader into these streets of the city’s past, and although John Shaft’s leash has been primarily short given his circumstances, the sense of place being communicated by the artwork alone describes a significant travelogue. We get a peaceful, richly drawn moment on a bench in St. Nicholas Park, the amber hues of a dark strip club, and the hostile, florescent tones in the greasy spoon where Shaft’s ghosts come to mock him. These contrasting canvases describe a man mustering all of his geographical resources in the city he fully understands and reckons with, commanding a kind of urban geomancy, connecting the dots, casting spells with dented city payphones.
Walker’s Shaft has always been about this kind of travel, but the synergy materializing in this fifth issue between the writing and the art is outstanding. Additionally, travel has invariably been a key theme in the classic detective story, and Walker has never shied away from referencing the classics that inform this tale (sometimes even outright in the text itself). The rhythm culminates in the last page, informing us that the time for running around has come to an end. I expect a significant body count in the next issue.
According to Walker, the next issue marks the end of the tale and the current Shaft run, for now. Barring the possibility of further Walker/Shaft stories, I at least hope that Dynamite is quick to produce a nicely printed trade paperback of this arc, and I urge them to not skimp on the paper quality, and risk affecting the aforementioned art.
As a little bonus, let’s revisit a key moment featured in VixenVarsity’s recent preview of the issue, to showcase the masterful storytelling on display.
Notice in this scene that Shaft has left Marisol’s bedroom, finding himself at the Bridgeport station. His outfit blends with the sign, as he remembers Arletha.
In panels 2 through 4, Marisol’s story plays out in his head. Notice the color tones in this flashback. He remembers Arletha in these textures, and he has been thinking about her constantly ever since losing her. Even having the opportunity to spend some time with her friend has returned a small part of his lost love to him.
As he comes out of his reverie in the last panel, he is back on the subway. The lighting subverts the colors on his outfit. He is far from her idyllic warmth.
On this page, Shaft’s journey offers him the opportunity to reconnect with this lost part of her, as told by the returning palette. When he enters this locker room at Marisol’s instruction, the saturated colors echo his outfit, as well as his memories of Arletha. But something is wrong.
As his hand enters her locker to retrieve the photographs that she died for, the shadowy interior instantly chills the colors, comparable to the subway panel on the previous page, but colder. Although this locker is Arletha’s, the material inside is a contrasting element: it’s a piece of the real world, and the real world sucks.
The next page gives us the ugly truth, in black and white.
Free yourself of doubt, and make sure you purchase Issue #5!