Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Sheltered Volume 2 Review (Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas)

In the pre-apocalyptic survivalist camp of Safe Haven in isolated rural America, the kids have murdered all of the adults on the say-so of disturbed, and disturbing, teen leader Lucas. But not all of the kids have lost their minds and Victoria, whose family were the most recent converts to the cult-like group, is taking a stand. Now some outsiders have appeared and things become even more desperate. 

The first volume of Sheltered was nearly a great book but I felt the setup was a bit too arbitrary – suddenly the adults are massacred by the kids because they needed to be. That and something felt missing. With this second volume, writer Ed Brisson found the hidden ingredient: the outside world. 

The book opens with Cliff, a family man who delivers hardware, driving to Safe Haven with a truck full of solar panels, completely unaware of the chaos that’s just taken place. He quickly becomes the sole survivor of his small group and the focus of a deadly game of cat and mouse as he’s chased by gun-toting teens with their blood up. 

Brisson writes Cliff’s story so brilliantly that you get to know the character before he encounters the crazy kids of Safe Haven and therefore care what happens to him. What a novel idea: help the reader understand why we should give a damn about characters before throwing massive amounts of plot and action at them! So many comics writers fail to do this that it’s a relief to come across someone like Brisson who understands the importance of taking the time to write characters’ backstories for the effect that this will have later on. 

And Cliff’s story as he stumbles through the woods, escaping crazed kids, looking for help from anyone and realising that he’s in the middle of nowhere and could die out there, is utterly exciting. The poor guy goes from one bad situation to another in this book and I was rooting for him the whole time, completely caught up in his plight and eager to see how his story played out.

Victoria and Lucas take a backseat to Cliff’s story which is just as well as their storyline isn’t as thrilling. But it’s still entertaining to see how their characters are developing: Victoria is becoming more resourceful and capable while Lucas is becoming more calculating and vicious. It looks like he’s retreating in this book but it feels like he’s biding his time before making his play. This is really excellent writing. 

Brisson keeps up the tension throughout with the kids in Safe Haven splitting into factions while Cliff reaches for the outermost fringes of civilisation - with a pair of dangerous kids, one of them totally out of his mind, snapping at his heels. It’s a story where you honestly can’t guess the numerous twists and turns of the plot – is Cliff our hero, and is he going to live? What about Victoria? Is anyone safe in this story? 

Sheltered Volume 2 builds upon the first book and definitely finds its legs here. It’s a very violent story that’s enormous fun to read in a dark way and, for a comic starring kids, is ironically totally unsuitable for younger readers! Lord of the Flies is a reference a lot of people will connect with when they read this but I feel Brisson and Johnnie Christmas are creating something a bit different, and certainly more extreme, with their tale of the alienated youth of 21st century America. 

This is an absorbing, fantastic read that grabbed me from start to finish with an urgency seldom seen in most narratives – if there are any comics-savvy AMC/HBO/BBC execs out there, this would make a helluva TV show!

Sheltered Volume 2

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