Review: Shanghai Red #1

Red is one of hundreds shanghaied out of Portland in the late 1800s. Drugged, kidnapped, and sold to a ship’s captain, she wakes up on a boat headed out to sea for years, unable to escape or even reveal who she truly is. Now she’s coming back in a boat covered in blood to find her family and track down the men responsible for stealing her life out from under her.

A revenge tale. That’s Shanghai Red in a nutshell. The creative team of Christopher Sebela, Joshua Hixson, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou have put together a fascinating first issue that sets a tone of brutality and twists and turns that are fantastic. The story itself is a standard revenge one as the main character, Red, rises up to freedom and sets on a path to get some brutal justice from those that did her wrong. But, this is in the late 1800s. The guns are basic and the transportation is on the high seas. The setting and low-tech vibe of it all creates a gritty setting that just makes it all meaner and all the much cooler.

We’ve seen this type of story. But, this creative team has given us something new. First, there’s Red’s story taking us through the life of the time and what she had to do to survive. Everything is raw and dirty and none of it smooth and easy. There’s something really engaging about that and it gets the reader into the story and where it goes. Then there’s the reveal of who Red is early on. It’s unexpected (at least by me who didn’t read the solicit) and adds to the kick-ass nature of it all, especially when Red tells her story of the why of it all. And Red is a great character. No shits taken and justice is delivered. And she is just. After rising up, she treats her crew well eventually winning them over. She may be a murderer but she’s also a leader in so many ways. The case is made as to why she should be followed and that’s not just the brutality and skill but also an honesty and fairness too.

The art matches the setting with a gritty nature look. Things are clean and clear instead the style almost has a grime that matches the high seas it’s initially set on. We can feel the dirt in a way and the designs are fantastic despite a limited initial stage. That limitation also adds to the latter of the issue when we get a better look at the crew’s destination of Portland, Oregon and we can appreciate how much bigger the adventure’s going to get.

Shanghai Red is a revenge tale, but it’s one that feels unique due to its setting and characters. There’s a grittiness about it all and a low-fi aspect that makes it stand out from the pack. This is an absolutely fantastic debut issue and one that has me sucked in to see where it all goes.

Story: Christopher Sebela Art: Josh Hixson
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review