8.06.2013

Sheltered #2 [Advance Review]

Sheltered #2 (Image): Here’s the thing… Sheltered is a great example of not confusing setting and world-building with the actual plot. Despite the engaging sound byte pitch of the world Sheltered takes place in, it’s still obvious that the creative team has a story to tell first and foremost. Comparisons to The Walking Dead are not completely unfounded or out of line in this regard. Superficially, it’s easy for me to offer those begging-for-pull-quote-status quips like “Sheltered is the next Walking Dead!” (which I have actually used to sell people in the LCS, thank you very much), but it’s for a deeper reason than that hype-man superficiality would suggest. In the same way that The Walking Dead isn’t truly about the window-dressing zombie gore-fest in a post-apocalyptic world, nor is Sheltered really about the pre-apocalyptic settlement of Safe Haven preparing for [insert end of the world scenario of your choice]. If The Walking Dead is, at heart, more concerned with the breakdown of humanity amid the sensational world-build, then Sheltered too is more about the interpersonal dynamics. It’s a closed-room study of generational differences among the Gen Y Millennials who feel a need to overcome their own apathy and entitlement to prove themselves, to prove that they’re adults capable of making the really tough decisions.

Ed Brisson (who I only really knew from being the letterer on Prophet, shame on me, though I sure feel like I know the guys now after an in-store signing and bumping into them repeatedly at SDCC) is able to achieve this utterly believable story through some good old fashioned writing strengths. While there may be a curiously placed comma or two in the “Previously” section, extra words not caught during a proofreading run like “I have some something to tell you…” or a stray word-choice oddity like “normality” vs. “normalcy,” that’s admittedly me being very nitpicky with my editorial eye and just busting Brisson’s balls a little (“Busting Brisson’s Balls,” the name of my new punk band, coincidentally). Otherwise, Brisson has brought his A-game, proving he’s ready to step out from anyone else’s shadow, step up from his indie gems like the delicious Murder Book, and be an A-list writer fully in the spotlight. Brisson is clearly a student of natural speech patterns. Something that was apparent in the aforementioned Murder Book, and still rings true here in Sheltered, is that Brisson has a very sharp ear for realistic dialogue, where people stutter and stammer and pause and restart. It’s there during Hailey’s ranting when she’s sees Mitch, a slew of run-ons and half-questions that come pouring out of someone when they’re freaking out, the kind that look horrible in a script, but absolutely come to life on the page because they sound real. Brisson knows that people react differently to different situations. Check out the way Victoria initially reacts to the death of the adults vs. the way Hailey almost calmly reacts to the same. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s essentially no exposition in the book. I like how we never get Lucas monologuing his way through his motivations or training, we’re just told, for example, oh by the way, Lucas knows exactly how you’re supposed to burn bodies for maximum effect. Um, what?! That’s instant cold characterization, folks.

Pop Quiz: What do you get when you cross Eduardo Risso’s use of negative space, shadows, and fascination with eyes, with Nick Dragotta’s old figure work from a book like, say, Vengeance? Answer: Johnnie Christmas. Man, I hate those comparisons though, because they risk giving Christmas short shrift for having his own unique design sense that’s grounded in sinewy rugged qualities, but with beautiful contours and camera placement. I love the shot of Victoria and Hailey jumping down from their perch, because Christmas uses a ground-up, almost forced perspective POV that gives you a sense of height and drama to this small little throwaway bit of action. I love the clothes the kids are all wearing, all distinct, all actual clothes – nothing from a typical comic book, all giving small subtle hints about their personalities. There’s Lucas’ furry pragmatic collar, or Victoria’s glasses and bandanna, which are small foreshadowed elements to the girl power rah-rah denouement this issue ultimately offers. With Shari Chankhamma’s gorgeous palette on coloring, I love the way tears shed in the snow seem to glisten, and it all comes together to form a distinct visual presence like nothing else on the stands. Oh, the piece de resistance from Johnnie Christmas is that blend of black spattered street art and the askew panel border when Mitch breaks down, by the way. Chankhamma is a colorist who seems to be bursting onto the scene like Jordie Bellaire did, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more work quickly emanate from this talented artist.

I recently wrote a little something about my appreciation for backmatter and some of the books I’m currently enjoying that prominently feature it, so I’d be remiss in not mentioning the work of Ryan K. Lindsay in the PREPNET SURVIVALCAST NEWSLETTER in this second issue. Lindsay spends a page discussing global pandemics. This is something I’m pretty familiar with. In my last job, I was responsible for coordinating much of my company’s response posture, table-top drills, executive communications, etc. for an impending global pandemic. It was no small feat for a Fortune 100 company with about 300 sites in 200 countries around the globe. It can be scary stuff when you look at epidemiology and just how fragile human existence on the planet can be when faced with that type of threat. I say all of that not to brag (much), but mostly to illustrate that the creative team picked a great topic, and Ryan K. Lindsay successfully walks the very fine line between well-informed pragmatism and rampant paranoia, which I think was the intent of the piece. It’s a way to world-build that swiftly lets you into the mindset of some of the players in this reality.

Ultimately, this is basically just an issue dealing with the immediate reactions of the group to the events that happened at the end of the last issue (yes, I’m still being a little vague and trying to avoid outright spoilers for those who might still be trying to catch up), but it’s done at such a staccato fevered pitch that you hardly realize the entire issue has come and gone by the time you get to the kick-ass finale. By the end, the creative team has given us fuel for the long-form narrative. Victoria is at odds with ostensible leader Lucas, because what she’s being told and what she’s just seen with her own eyes are not meshing. She quickly emerges as a strong young female protagonist, which is always a welcome addition to the grand comic book tapestry. By the time I got to the lettercol (yep, this book has it all, backmatter AND an old-school lettercol, AND a shot of the gorgeous next issue!), I was pondering the multiple meanings of the title. Sheltered. This group is leading a sheltered existence from the outside world. They’re almost literally “sheltered in place” (to use an emergency preparedness term) and hunkered down in preparation for the end. They’re also sheltered in the sense that they’re becoming increasingly withdrawn and emotionally guarded. I just can’t escape the feeling that Sheltered is the birth of something very special. Grade A.

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