‘The Queen of the Wolves’ continues Molly “Red” Wolfram’s quest for revenge. She’s back where she was shanghaied, and looking for the men who did it. Our review will contain minor spoilers.
Shanghai Red #2
Written by Christopher Sebela
Illustrated by Joshua Hixson
Lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
After being abducted and spending two years trapped at sea, Red has finally returned to the city of Portland. As she tracks down what’s left of her family and her old life, Red begins a bloody campaign of vengeance against the runners and crimps who put her on that boat. One body at a time.
Red heads directly to the apartment she shared with her mother and little sister, Katie.
A letter left in Red’s hiding place in the apartment narrates the action, as Molly runs through the streets of Portland and then searches the apartment. Siobhan Wolfram never gave up on her daughter and even left money behind for her when she returns home.
Red makes her bed on the floor of the apartment, just as she did on the Bellwood, where she spent two years as a slave. She marks her first day home on the wall, just as she marked off her days on the ship.
Molly Wolfram masqueraded as Jack so she could do man’s work in a man’s world. When she told her story last issue, she said: “there were four of us now,” describing “Jack” as another member of the family.
In this issue, the shifts between Jack and Molly are more pronounced. Molly lies on the floor, marks off the day, and falls asleep peacefully in the apartment. Jack steals flowers from a rich man’s grave to put them on Siobhan’s and Molly’s graves.
Molly is dressed as Jack when she stands frozen in front of the pub where she was shanghaied. Jack tells her “They’re in there. Kill them all.” He takes over when he overhears the two men that kidnapped him.
Jack walks into the bicycle bar. Molly takes over when they see who is there.
Red is a complex character, and Sebela’s script brings those complexities to life. Jack’s actions are swift, decisive, and brutal. Molly has visions of her victims swimming in blood and doubts her own identity. It’s only the specter of her mother reminding her that it was Molly that got them across the west that puts her back on course.
Joshua Hixson has more room to work as the ship gives way to city streets, apartments, pubs, a cemetery, and the tunnels under Portland.
Red’s run to the apartment spans five panels, with the focus on her feet walking down the docks and then breaking into a sprint. Her signature knife in her right boot is visible in each of the outdoor scenes, even as we zoom out and see more of the city. She comes to a stop at her door, and we immediately know the apartment is abandoned.
Quite a few pages are heavy on dialogue, but it frames Hixson’s storytelling. We read Siobhan’s letter to her daughter as she searches the apartment. We hear what happened to her as Red visits her grave. It’s a smooth and effective way to provide backstory while advancing the story at the same time.
Hixson’s colors draw from a broader palette too. Orange lamplights light the nighttime streets of Portland in windows and a setting sun. The apartment is dark and, combined with a stark rendering of an empty room, claustrophobic. The wood beams of the bar in the final scene have heavy black shadows that add a remarkable sense of depth.
When violence breaks out, the background shifts to the same blood red as Molly’s visions, drawing attention to the action and recalling her moments of doubt.
Otsmane-Elhaou’s letter’s deserved mention too. Siobhan’s letter to Molly is rendered in script that immediately tells you what you are reading, and drunk Jack’s speech wanders up and down in speech balloons that spare us a needless “you’re drunk buddy!”
In the final scene, Molly faces a problem she hasn’t had before; someone gives her a good fight, and it’s only luck that saves her.Continued below
The final page is a single panel that brings us to a crossroads in her story. What’s next?
I can’t wait to see.
Final Verdict: 8.5 – ‘The Queen of the Wolves’ advances Red’s quest far enough that we know this series will go to unexpected places.