Pullbox Reviews: Shi, Volume 3: Revenge!

In the third book of the series, the Glorious Eries develop their plan to win England back its colonies and they find themselves collaborating with a powerful and surprising ally. Jennifer Winterfield and Kita let the world believe they are dead so that they can begin plotting their revenge with the help of Kita’s sensei, a Japanese tattoo artist with mystical powers who lives in a houseboat on the Thames. Meanwhile, Pickles the street urchin gets her hopes up that Jennifer might adopt her, but destiny has other plans.

London’s upper crust has always stood as the shining example of propriety & bearing during the light of day. However that wasn’t always the truth, particularly behind closed doors, during the quiet kerosene lit nights. For those with more discerning proclivities, The Alcove is the place where anything is possible & all tastes may be sated without judgment… for the right price. The utmost discretion is always guaranteed… until it isn’t.

A group of self-proclaimed patriots have found an inspired use for the new technology known as “photography”. From behind the formerly closed doors of The Alcove, the dirtiest, darkest, and deepest of secrets are threatening to leak out unless sufficient recompense is made. But take heart, it’s all in the name of raising funds to return the rebellious American Colonies to their proper state as loyal subjects. When word of the enterprise makes its way to the Queen Mother herself, steps are to be taken to ensure that while the blackmailers’ goal is admirable, they’ll be kept on a tight leash. Wouldn’t want any loyal British subjects to be getting ideas loftier than their station.

Enter Jennifer Winterfield and Kita.

I’m not going into a lot of detail… not because those details aren’t interesting or worth talking about, but because there are just a lot of them. The previous two volumes of Shi have laid out a groundwork that’s equal parts disturbing, amusing, and thought provoking. If you’d like to learn more, you’re gonna have to do what I did and get some reading in before diving into this third volume, very aptly titled “Revenge!” This has been more or less the theme of the series from the start, one of retribution and justice in the face of wrongs so deeply disturbing that I can’t put a more heartfelt stamp of “recommended for mature audiences only” on this one.

Zidrou & Homs are, each in his own area, artists in every sense of the word. Their story shines a stark light into a bleak period of England’s history, a time when it was just bad damn luck to be born into anything but the upper class- to say nothing of being so unfortunate as to be born a woman. Zidrou’s story takes control out of the hands of the pompous few and lets the downtrodden have their way, and the heroes, Jennifer and Kita, have had a rough go of things up to now. I’d go so far as to say that the first two installments in the graphic novel series had moments that were a little rough to get through, so it was great to see them starting to get their due here.

Zidrou does that writing thing where he gives his readers characters to care about just a little more deeply than is the norm. Granted, part of that particular equation involves the inclusion of antagonists who go a few steps above and beyond what would blandly be put as “despicable”. In all cases, whatever we may feel toward a particular character, at no time should we feel that it hasn’t been earned. And to ease the anxiety that could be the result of some of the more shocking situations in his books, Zidrou does his readers the courtesy of including some much needed- and perfectly timed- levity.

And the pictures. Oh holy powers that be, can that Jose’ Homs guy draw! Homs has a style perfectly suited to the stories being told, very much in keeping with the high standards I’ve seen in many of the books coming from Europe Comics. His figures and facial features are distinctive to each and every character, and go a long way toward informing a reader on who and what that person is. If a guy looks creepy and threatening, chances are very good that he’s not about to hand a shiny new penny to a begging child. Much of it is in the eyes… Homs is able to gift, or curse, his characters with shockingly expressive eyes. I think that if there were no dialogue at all, we’d still be able to follow along pretty well just based on what the characters are doing or how they’re reacting in a situation.

These graphic novels works of art. I really can’t put any other way than that. Any of my tens of readers can tell you that I don’t shy away from use of the word “comicbook”. I read ‘em, I love ‘em, and I’m not ashamed to say it. The word holds no stigma for me, it’s just that Shi is one of those books for which it doesn’t quite fit. For serious readers, for fans of layered storytelling, for fans of books that let the abused give something back to their abusers… Shi is an outstanding piece of work.

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