Revenge has been an important part of storytelling since humans have started documenting history. The Iliad, The Princess Bride, and the God of War video games are all tales of vengeance across different mediums. Shanghai Red is a beautiful revenge story that is an exciting read and visually pleasing.
Shanghai Red is about Red, a woman who has been kidnapped and essentially enslaved for two years. One night, Red makes a decision that will lead her back to her home in Portland and to the men who stole her life away. During its first issue, the book also deals with themes of belonging and family.
In order for the reader to fully appreciate a revenge story, it has to be well written; the main character has to be developed and the motive has to make sense. If the story is going to involve the hero committing horrible acts of violence, then the audience has to understand their motivations. Without a strong character or plot, it is basically a tale where one person is trying to get back at another.
Christopher Sebella does an excellent job in Shanghai Red. The titular character has been taken from her family and is now out for vengeance. Sounds simple enough. However, Sebella makes it clear that Red makes her choice for deeper reasons. Sebella gives readers a look at Red’s past and we see how and why her connection to her family and Portland is as strong as it is. When she speaks of the city and her family’s time there, Red speaks so lovingly it borders on sadness. In just a few pages, Sebella provides Red an emotional depth rarely seen in revenge stories.
Red speaks longingly of her past, but there are decisions made in the present that also develop her character. The catalyst that for her final decision shows what a strong willed and independent person she is. Her interactions with others show her strong moral compass and it is clear her sense of identity is very important. Red is more than another character out to kill those who wronged her.
The art of Joshua Hixson makes the book even stronger. Hixson uses heavy lines and shadows that add to Shanghai Red’s tone. Unsurprisingly, the color red is used liberally throughout the book, adding a constant sense of impending danger. There is a sense of claustrophobia while open spaces are used in a way that conveys the yearning Red feels. The art is beautiful and exudes emotion.
Shanghai Red is a revenge story, so by definition it’s violent and bloody. Neither is used gratuitously and the story’s brutality is used to further develop the plot and character. Blood is also cleverly used to highlight certain panels. Still, for some the book may be too violent.
Shanghai Red is a story about revenge and identity that sets itself apart from similar tales in the genre. This is not your paint-by-numbers revenge tale. Engaging characters make Shanghai Red something deeper.
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