That should come as no surprise. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t simple, but Jack finally got his revenge on the man that sold her into servitude all those years ago. And yet, that wasn’t all that happened. Yes, this is a tale about a woman getting revenge on those who kidnapped her and forced her into slavery, but underneath that tale of vengeance, there’s an underlying story that writer Christopher Sebela wove, subtly, yet obviously, if you knew what you were looking for.
This is a story about identity and holding onto who you are. Red and Jack may share a body, but they are by no means the same. Red was the girl that dressed up as a boy to earn money for her and her sister, but Jack is who she was all along: a fighter, a survivor, but, more importantly, a person - one who was sold off as cheap labor and stripped of his identity.
And that’s what Jack is actually getting revenge for; his identity was taken from him, becoming a slave on a boat for years, and when he finally got the chance, he broke free. Throughout the story, Jack talked about who he was in his past, reverting back to Red and Jack, almost as though he himself was struggling with who he really was. In the end, though, he knew who he was and he chose who he had become, and not what he was forced to be.
When you look at the story from the very beginning, you wouldn’t immediately assume you’re reading the story of a transgender man and his fight for his identity, but that’s where Sebela’s subtlety truly shines. It especially helps that the story itself is based on true events. The last person on Jack’s list, Bunco Kelly, is a true historical figure who is infamous for crimping, or shanghaiing people and selling them as indentured servants. Worst of all, it was completely legal. This historical aspect, though, lends to the authenticity of Jack’s tale. Jack is fighting against not only those who thrive in the criminal underworld, but the bureaucracy of those who would see him be nothing but a worker, stripped from his identity.
Sebela’s story is an allegorical tale about coming out as transgender and fighting for your identity, albeit in a very bloody and fantastical manner. It resonates deeply, especially now with our current political landscape. When people are fighting for their basic right to be who they are, Shanghai Red perfectly encompasses that battle for identity, because at the end of the day, that’s all we’re trying to do: fight to be who we are.
Creative Team: Christopher Sebela (writer), Joshua Hixson (artist), Hassan Otsmane-Elhau (letters), Andrea Shockling (editorial assistance)
Publisher: Image Comics
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