Shaka is the auspicious origin story of a young man born during the worst storm Southern Africa has ever seen. The apple of his mother’s eye and an illegitimate source of shame to his great father and half-family, is this young boy on the path to manhood destined for greatness?
His father Ikosi (the chief) doesn’t think so. He chastises, ignores and derides Shaka at every opportunity, whilst his ‘real’ sons refer to him only as their half-brother: ‘the weaker half’. Too feeble to be a Zulu warrior they say, and unable to protect the tribes cattle as tasked, a failure clearly brought on by a lifetime of fatherly neglect, Ikosi has had enough.
‘I will no longer be tainted by this shame’ as he sets to make an example of Shaka. However, despite a lifetime of jeering, taunting and ridicule, as detailed in these pages: ‘thunder gives him his strength and lightning guides’ Shaka as he stands tall to both defy his tormentor and protect his mother.
A Look Into Shaka #1
The first instalment of a ten issue limited series chronicling the life of Shaka KaSenzangakhona aka Shaka Zulu, the man that would go on to become the King of the Zulu Empire, is strictly a world building opener. Writer Warren Duncan with the sterling illustrations of the immensely talented Elijah Johnson create an earthly, bold landscape that is both as colourful and rich in culture as it is desolate in atmosphere.
This isn’t a cheerful origin but blasts of red, green and yellow symbolically brighten the pages (guess what the colours of the national flag were) and draw focus to the carefully illustrated details of Zulu heritage.
The action on these pages is clear and easy to follow with impressive attention to detail that really emote the panels literally illustrating anger, crying, desperation, cruelty and defiance. This allows the dialogue to flow freely adding both depth and emphasis to the scenes rather than drowning the pages with needless exposition.
Elijah Johnson clearly believes that a picture tells a thousand words as demonstrated by the carefully considered illustrations that match both the tone and tenor of the story. This allows for descriptive and impactful dialogue to build and embolden the atmosphere whilst easily evading the pitfalls of verbosity.
So as the principal protagonists are set to face the unknown dangers and darkness that comes with going into exile, what are we ultimately left with? We have a young hero boldly standing up to his oppressors and starting a journey that will lead him to greatness. We have heart, compassion and principle against a harsh, dark and dangerous backdrop.
And finally, we have the promise of exploring a time of great historical significance coupled with the thoroughness and elegance that it demands. The scholars amongst us know that ultimately the story of Shaka Zulu is a tragedy, but don’t let the foreboding sense of inevitability detract from what is coming.
Our young hero will face many dangers, he’ll have to fight in the name of altruism and overcome countless tribulations on his path towards greatness. Before the inevitable fall however, Shaka is destined to rise and this 3 ½ Star first instalment beautifully illustrates the unique culture and harsh landscape in which that journey takes place.
Issue #1 lacks a little in character depth, action and the broader strokes of what the story is about - especially if you head into it blind without the historical context. Regardless, this is a stepping stone towards bigger, bolder events and I for one cannot wait to see what happens next.
« PREVIOUS NEXT »