9.03.2013

Sheltered #3 [Advance Review]

Sheltered #3 (Image): Every single person alive thinks that they’re the hero of their own story. Nobody ever wakes up in the morning and thinks that they’re merely the villain in someone else’s story. This lesson is a central conceit in the story told by Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas, Shari Chankhamma, and Ryan K. Lindsay in this month’s episode of Sheltered, the latest hit (in a long series of hits) from the Creator Owned Comics haven that is Image Comics. The lesson applies to Lucas, who’s finally provided an opportunity to explain the motivations behind his recent coup d’état, wiping out all of the adults in the camp, roughly 50% of their total population. If you’re willing to accept this explanation at face value, then it’s clear that Lucas may not be that mustache-twirling, pure evil, one-dimensional villain that populates most of the company owned properties currently on the stands. He might just be a misguided kid who’s doing what he thinks is necessary, in his skewed perception of the world, for the greater good. The right thing to do is rarely a popular or easy decision.

I don’t know exactly how old Ed Brisson is, and if he technically belongs in Gen X or Gen Y, but in either case, I still maintain that one of the overarching thematic thrusts of Sheltered is some sort of sub-conscious commentary about the deep-seeded need for Gen Y Millennials to step up and disprove their commonly attributed sense of entitlement, by taking bold actions to exert their own control and leadership. We'll see how that plays out. Getting back to the story at hand, at this point, it really all depends on the veracity of what Lucas said to Victoria. If you do take his impending disaster theory at face value, then the apocalypse really is coming in three weeks, and you can start to question if the greater threat is truly internal or external to the group.
As good as the script is, the story obviously isn’t complete without the contributions of Johnnie Christmas on art and Shari Shankhamma on beautiful colors. The two, together, are more than the sum of their parts. I’m starting to learn the Christmas style, and one of my favorite go-to moves is how he occasionally uses forced perspective shots. For example, when Lucas finds Victoria, she wheels around and has him at gunpoint. That kinetic action feels like it’s all in one panel though. Christmas’ placement of the gun, hard in the foreground, with Victoria behind-right, adds flair and drama, creating a sense of motion where none technically exists on a static page. Later, when Lucas is shouting “Intruder! Intruder!” Christmas frames the shot so that the audience has the POV of Lucas looking out at the makeshift town. It’s cinematic and gives you a sense of the scope of their settlement. What I love about this page is the inset panel at the lower right, giving the reader the sense that Lucas’ shouts and the others’ reactions are occurring all at the same time. Christmas isn’t afraid of these stylistic flourishes (or even manga style speed lines, or emotion lines emanating from heads), but more importantly, they’re never just flash, they’re always substantive and in service to the story.

Shankhamma balances the majority of the pages very well. There’s nice tension between a bleak palette that needs to capture night and sparsely populated environs, with moody emotion that pops at all the right times. Page one instantly draws you in with this approach. Shadows are cascading off the trees as the light of a garbage can fire provides some warmth in the snow. The emotional gravitas of the color contrast draws you right in. I defy readers not to be questioning themselves as to what Lucas is thinking right here. It’s the color that allows you to be concerned over that introspection, to even suggest it. There are small things too, literally all over the place, like the way Victoria’s hair bounces up and flows as she drops out of the window, the way rosy noses and cheeks tend to glow realistically in the cold air, or how blood spatters just pop to punctuate the violence that’s occurred, juxtaposed against dull grayish Earth tones in the background. These creators really know what they’re doing. There’s thought put into every aspect of this production, and yet the results feel so effortless.
By the end, there’s a well-played discovery that serves as something of a cliffhanger, and nicely loops back around to the very first image in the book. Maybe we do have some idea of what Lucas was thinking at that fire after all. I’m guessing it involved being cut off from the outside world, and how communication channels and access to information is one of the ultimate forms of control. This denouement for the issue basically makes you question everything I just said about the veracity of that conversation between Lucas and Victoria. It’s an emotional roller-coaster we’re on, continually wrestling with who to side with, Team Lucas, or Team Victoria (yeah, that’s me recommending to Brisson, Christmas, and the Image Comics gang that we have some “Team Victoria” t-shirts available at the next big con, let’s see… what’s next on the calendar… NYCC, that’s doable, right?!). It puts readers in the position everyone in the camp should be in, whether or not to follow your heart or your brain when faced with life altering choices.

Thanks to the guys for their shout out to my retail sponsor, Yesteryear Comics, and don’t forget that satisfying backmatter, the PREPNET SURVIVALCAST NEWSLETTER, crafted by Ryan K. Lindsay. It dives into detail about the Yellowstone Caldera, which has a direct bearing on the story being presented. Under Lindsay's capable hands, the backmatter walks that delicate balance of informed fact and rampant paranoia, proving that truth exists on a continuum, rather than at polar absolutes. If you’re not reading Sheltered, you’re missing out on one of the best books of the year. Grade A+.

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