The first thing that struck me about Sheltered was just how timely its story seemed: with the tea party politically splintering the population, with Hoarders spinning off shows about people obsessing over stocking their bunkers “just in case” and the world swirling the drain fast enough to throw our axis off-kilter now seemed the perfect time for its story of apocalyptically-minded individuals getting everything they ever wished for. Then I thought, “No, twenty-twelve might have been a better time, given the Aztek prediction,” then I read the words series Writer Ed Brisson wrote in the back of the book, detailing Sheltered‘s near four year history and I thought ” Ok, 2009 also makes sense.” That is when the most horrifying part clicked for into place for me: any year, any time, any place this could happen. We’re skating on the edge and have been for miles now. With a mere twenty-two pages Sheltered had made me start thinking like a prepper.
Brisson is best known now for the recent Image series Comeback and based on that one might come into this ‘Pre-Apocalypse’ comic expecting something similarly sci-fi – a safe assumption given that one can open nearly any book on shelf and see some massive explosion, the toppling of some major landmark and the end of all times – but just as he did time travel in that book, Brisson has here brought some humanity to the disaster movie genre, without ever compromising its capacity to chill and compel.
There is little out there that can compare you for what occurs in Sheltered – it is a rather unique story and one that I am loathe to spoil here by imparting any detail – but the closest comparison that I can make is to Jeff Nichols Take Shelter; though distinct and different in many ways both mine the psychological depths of the pragmatic ultra-pessimists that build themselves bunkers and stockpile arms, here referred to as preppers. There is action, there are thrills, but both are delivered with a slow-burn sophistication that I for one am a massive fan of.
The way that Brisson chooses to tell the tale is key to the success of this approach, specifically the way in which he paces the plot out during this debut issue. We are introduced to the world of Safe Haven through the eyes of a newly inducted family – one with an open and intriguing past – and at first it seems a fitting namesake; its a queer and almost quirky life that these people choose to live – one that gets light laughs from those following the current Second Amendment struggle – and following it would have been interesting enough to pull me through an issue or two, but it barely lasts through one.
The book’s art, by Brisson’s Murder Book compatriot Johnnie Christmas, plays a large part in the pacing of this. Whereas most books choose to jump from moment to moment, line to line, in order to fit only the most important of content into the page here we have multiple panels left silent in the middle of dialogues and still in the middle of motion. These images all show instances of two characters staring into one another’s eyes, the communication in each entirely sub-verbal and yet thanks to their particular rendering these panels are potent with meaning. It struck me as a strange device at first – I don’t know these characters well enough yet to guess what they are thinking! – but I quickly came around to them once it became clear just what was being said in each.
This paragraph will contain massive spoilers! Of all the options available the one that Sheltered chooses come the end of the issue, having the children of Safe Haven turn on their parents, was both the least expected and the perhaps the most meaningful. With this one fell swoop Brisson sends both the story and the metaphor of his book in a drastic new direction: now it’s less Christopher Guest satire and more captured animal thriller, less a timely joke and more a mediation on the changing times. Sheltered is a term used to describe children raised in relative wealth and safety, but it seems to me that it refers more to the book’s adults; they have sheltered themselves from the changing world, they have brought us to this brink and now its time for the next generation to take charge.
I don’t know where the book will go from here – it could, like Christmas’ art, be excellent at any distance: be it a close-up claustrophobic thriller, or a world wide cataclysm – but I am so excited to find out. Sheltered establishes such a sensational new world in its first issue, instantly setting itself apart from all the zombie hordes and Carbon horror you may have expected to lump it with. My only regret is that I now have to wait a month to see more of it, though that isn’t an invitation to trade wait; look at the world around you and wonder aloud if waiting isn’t too big a risk, you’ll likely agree that it’s best to be prepared, best to buy a copy now, bunker down and read it.