My, but we nerds do love our survival genre, don’t we? I blame Lord of the Flies being required reading in our public schools. For more examples, you need only check out my reviews of NEO Scavenger, or even Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures With Extremists. Most likely, it’s a remainder left behind by our sudden and aggressive fixation on zombie horror. Our collective belief that a zombie outbreak is all but inevitable may fade in and out of our consciousness, but take it away and all you’re left with the desire to live.
Sheltered, written by Ed Brisson and illustrated by Johnnie Christmas, is another entry in the long, dark road that is the survivalist thriller. Though it is devoid of the undead, its pacing and grim, emotional style immediately conjures to mind early issues of The Walking Dead, though Sheltered isn’t without its own unique tension. The recently released Volume 1 collects the first five issues of this series, and admirably keeps your attention down to the very last page. Following the children of a compound-bound group of survivalists, Sheltered tells the story of what happens when the youth of extremists rise up to take matters into their own hands.
The first thing I noticed about the art in Sheltered were the faces. Johnnie Christmas does a remarkable job of using the faces of his characters not only to express emotion, but to hide it. For every heavily-lined and detailed face, there is another that is missing features, if it has features at all. The result is a haunting series of panels–even when nothing particularly gruesome is going on, Christmas’s illustrations still have a way of leaving you unsettled. A lot is gained by Shari Chankhamma’s coloring work, which does a terrific job of complementing the brooding artwork.
I am not as fully engaged in Ed Brisson’s storyline. Well, that isn’t fair to say: I actually am. But I find it unnerving that we’re as far along in this story as we are in just five issues. I absolutely love the concept of what is taking place here: the murder, the politics–all in the name of cold, calculating survival. To see the reptilian nature of humanity manifest itself in someone so young is not only horrifying: it’s fascinating. I just feel very strongly that this narrative would be served better if the author were to take his time a little more.
Now, I’m sure many of you would argue that this is the nature of comics and graphic novels: that the pace is set at a gallop instead of a trot. And that’s fair. But what I see in Brisson’s storytelling has so much potential that I think if he were to slow it down just a touch we could have something truly riveting here. With a little more care, this could be a tense, slow-burn thriller. And sometimes it absolutely hits that mark–but it also sometimes falls into cliché that is beneath its narrative. Our heroine sliding a clip into her gun and staring coldly while muttering, “I’m sure as fuck not letting them get us.” Cue the Kill Bill music!
The one thing I’m 100 percent sure of, however, is Brisson’s treatment of Lucas–the sociopathic antagonist that most of the story directly follows. Somehow both focused and aloof, Lucas and his unhinged sense of calm is everything that one looks for in a villain. He’s calculating–he’s absolutely in charge. He’s an amazing bad guy (in that sometimes you’re not even entirely sure he is a bad guy), and if there’s one reason I’ll be continuing my reading of this series, it’s him.
Sheltered has definitely got some terrific things going for it. And while it may have sped off into the distance a little quicker than I hoped it would, I’ll be returning to see what happens next.
Sheltered, Volume 1 is available on Amazon for both trade paperback and Kindle.