Shanghai Red #5
Writer: Christopher Sebela
Artist: Joshua Hixson
Entering the American lexicon in the mid-1800s, being “shanghaied” or “crimped” means being forced to work as a crew member aboard a ship; the city of Shanghai is a typical destination by those ships. Through coercion or kidnapping, crimping fulfills a demand for sailors on ships. Shanghai Red is the story of Red/Jack, a person who was taken from a bar in Portland to work on a ship for years. They seek vengeance on the people who put them on the ship and re-connection with their remaining family. From here on, there are some light spoilers.
The finale of Sebela and Hixson’s revenge tale opens back at The Senate, the sketchy bar built through nefarious means run by Liz, as Red/Jack arrive with Katie while the police hold firm outside, ready to shoot up the place. It is here where Sebela takes a chance to demonstrate the complex family relationship he’s built between Red/Jack and Katie; siblings contemplating what a home could actually look like for them after all they’ve been through and sympathetically exploring Jack’s transgender identity. While Red is biologically female, they’ve presented as Jack throughout their life. Katie knows this but believes Jack is merely a disguise Red uses in order to support their family.
At one point, Katie is talking about Red’s old personality and Jack’s response is “You’ve never met Jack. He’s different” to which Katie responds by holding up a suit and saying, “so introduce me.” It’s a heartwarming moment that shows the siblings still want to connect and understand that the other has changed. The only thing I don’t enjoy about the issue is the way it ends; there’s a chance for a true-to-life problems ending wherein Jack may need to give up his quest, but the conclusion tosses that chance in favor of wrapping the story conclusively and tying it with a bow. I’m not a fan of it but I’ll concede that the story earns the ending Sebela chose to go with. The fantastic art throughout the issue is part of why I’m willing to yield the end.
Hixson’s linework is reminiscent of David Aja’s Hawkeye run; loose strokes for the backgrounds giving a sense of depth while action and characters have tighter brushes allowing them to depict fear, anger, and regret without coming off exaggerated or cartoony. The darker colors fit well with the setting of historical Portland in the 19th century, painting a picture of a brooding town with an underlying mystery that common citizens choose to ignore.
The silent panels are where Hixson truly shines, giving life to the moments on the page. There’s a 5-panel page where Jack riding a horse to escape a shoot-out and the last three panels are breathtaking. A grin slowly appears on Jack’s face in engaging red. Then Jack’s in uplifting yellow, with arms spread as if flying on the wind. The final panel depicts Jack surrounded by a light sky and forest, family in tow, arms in the same position. It’s a quiet moment in an intense action scene and it works wonderfully. Jack’s not a personality developed further to cope with trauma, instead, Jack has always been bubbling inside. Hixson’s pages give the revenge-based anger a place to calm down and enjoy itself beyond violence.
Though the conclusion felt too neat and unlike with the visceral momentum previously built, the book’s still good. Overall, Shanghai Red is an incredible series worth checking out.
Shanghai Red #5
Hixson delivers fabulous art. Sebela shows great character work and a decent emotional climax.