The first two issues of Shanghai Red — the violent revenge story from Image Comics — were action packed and emotional books that examined the mental and physical toll vengeance can exact on a person. The last issue went a different route and spent much of the issue describing Portland’s past. It was a change of pace that did not fit the tone already established. Thankfully, the most recent issue returns to the moving story and whirlwind pacing that made the story so entertaining to begin with.
Chapter four begins with Red on the run from a gang of men who are trying to kill her. What makes the chase especially harrowing is Red is trying to escape through the same tunnels she was initially Shanghaied in. Writer Christopher Sebela gives these scenes an intimate feel with many panels having a flashback that mirrors them. The first time, it’s disorienting and appears to be an editing mistake. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that every second Red is in the tunnels brings back a horrible memory. The pages are a peek inside Red’s head and are meant to confuse. It’s a great technique that places the reader in Red’s frame of mind.
Sebela does not rely solely on flashbacks to give insight into Red’s mental state. She still talks to Jack for reassurance and her quest for revenge has become a dangerous obsession. Red does not seem to care for her own well-being, but it is becoming clear that others may also have to pay a price for her actions.
Along with the return to more character-driven storytelling, issue #4 of Shanghai Red is also nonstop action. From the opening chase scene in the tunnels beneath Portland to a violent fight scene in the middle of the book, the story never stops to take a breath. The combination of character examination and excitement are where the comic truly excels. After trying to figure out what Red is going through, the violent actions that follow make sense. We are watching an unstable person act upon years of unused aggression. Unfortunately for her victims, it is also almost uncontrollable. Red is a well written character who readers can relate to while simultaneously questioning her actions.
Shanghai Red has made it clear from its opening issue how important family is to Molly. This familial bond continues in the fourth part. Despite the episode in the sewers and a close call, Molly still makes it a point to tell her sister that when she has killed the final person on her list she is going to leave Portland. But she was not planning to leave alone and tells Katie she wants her to come with her. It is a touching scene that demonstrates that Molly’s ultimate goal is to be with her family. This is also the most vulnerable she has been written in the entire series.
In its best moments, Shanghai Red is an action packed story that makes sure to delve into its main character’s innermost thoughts. The issue also marks the first time since returning to Portland that Red has seemed overmatched. This was a great precursor to next month’s finale.