John Shaft’s life has been turned upside down as what should have been a simple task to find a lost boy has turned into a violent battle against the crime ridden underbelly of New York in Shaft: Imitation of Life #4. Is it good?
Shaft: Imitation of Life #4 (Dynamite Entertainment)
Thematically, Shaft: Imitation of Life #4 makes its point immediately as the private investigator’s life crashes surrealy into the underbelly of the porn industry of 70s New York. Shaft begins to wonder if life imitates art or if the reverse is true, noticing the similarities between his life and some of the dirt he’s seeing reenacted and Walker utilizes his protagonist’s literary knowledge to bring that theme to the forefront of the issue.
Walker’s grasp on Shaft as a character has been a highlight throughout this series, and it becomes even more apparent in this issue as Shaft gives a resounding answer to the question. Much of the series has dealt with Shaft’s inner turmoil caused by his desire to do good conflicting with his penchant for effective violence. That conflict comes to a head in the finale, as Shaft rescues Mike from a mob-run porn studio. Shaft constantly questions why he took the job, but his actions make it clear that his own doubt is a mask for hiding his true morality.
Artist Dietrich Smith really shines in the action here. The staging is clear, keeping the reader from getting lost in the gunfire as Shaft fights his way out of the studio. A particular highlight is the way Dietrich Smith draws Shaft retrieving a firearm, providing the snapshots of the image, creating a slow-motion effect within the panel.
Quieter moments are few and far between in Shaft: Imitation of Life #4, but Smith excels here as well, capturing the subtle expressions Shaft gives throughout the issue. From a simmering rage to a quiet acknowledgement of Tito’s competence, Smith makes sure Shaft comes across as a reserved man, but one who does have emotions.
Colorist Alex Guimaráes gives some of his best work of the series here, basking scenes in purples and blues that set the mood and add a touch of surrealism to the event that works nicely with the theme of art vs. life. The walls of the studio are given an almost vomit-green shade which mirrors the depraved actions that are implied to be taking place. Towards the end of the comic, Guimaráes utilizes a much more natural palette, signalling a presumed return to normalcy for John Shaft, even as a new layer is added to his life in the final pages.
Is It Good?
Shaft: Imitation of Life #4 is a tense issue that concludes the series in terrific fashion. David F. Walker’s script balances the action with thematic content, giving a layer of depth to the issue that could have easily spiraled into simply being a fiery conclusion. Artist Dietrich Smith and colorist Alex Guimaráes’ bring the world to life in theatrical fashion, heightening the drama of the story. In short, Shaft: Imitation of Life #4 is a fantastic ending to a superb series, worthy of John Shaft.