Written by Ed Brisson
Illustrated by Johnnie Christmas
Colors by Shari Chankhamma
Review by Mike Duke
For the first time since Sheltered started, the plot takes us out into the wide world around the Safe Haven settlement. Thus far we’ve been watching as the Lord-of-the-Flies drama plays out on the small scale, not knowing if the disasters that the kids are anticipating are actually happening or whether it really is just paranoia. At the same time we get some background on the latest crisis to arise in the settlement, which adds much needed weight and emotion to the situation.
When I first opened up this issue and saw that the narrative had shifted to the outside world, I was upset. The microcosm of Safe Haven seemed to have all of the appropriate drama and tension that the story needed. I was also afraid that this was Ed Brisson compromising his story with too much outside information, as so many stories are guilty of doing. Neither is true. By looking outside, Brisson and Christmas have added a valuable layer to this story, letting us know exactly how big and how hot is the fire that Lucas and the children of the settlement are playing with. Here we get background on the men who show up at the gate of Safe Haven at the end of issue #5, just when it seems like the tension and anxiety of the story is too much to bear.
I can’t express enough how impressive the writing in this book really is. These are real characters, speaking razor sharp dialog, reacting in ways that are completely surprising and yet seem so genuine. It’s one thing to postulate how a people would react in this situation or that; it’s another to really get it right. And that’s what Sheltered does month-by-month: get it right. I can say genuinely that I have no idea what will happen next within the machinations of Sheltered, and I that fact terrifies and excites me like no other book I’m reading right now.
In an odd way, Johnnie’s Christmas’s art works against the realism of Brisson’s writing. His style is not what I would call “realistic,” and yet, that also works to the story’s advantage. Too much realism in the art might just tip the scales on a book like this and make it too much for a reader to handle. Christmas’s character work is perfect here, though, because it leaves no question as to who is who on the page. No sooner is Cliff introduced on the first page as you can easily pick out where he is on the last page. Also, Christmas’s backgrounds and landscapes, though sometimes sparse, feel like real places that we’ve all been. There is also a distinct dominant color in each location that grounds us in that place and lets us know immediately where we are.
Buy it. I don’t feel like I can adequately express how good this book is. It’s not flashy or loud like so many of the other comics we enjoy, but you won’t find more realistic characters anywhere out there. And when I say anxiety, I’m talking about the palpable anxiety that I feel when I read this book–the genuine fear for these characters. Think of it as the Coen Brothers movie that they haven’t yet gotten to make–somewhere in the middle ground between Fargo and Blood Simple. Yeah, it’s that good.