by Johnnie Christmas, Ed Brisson and Shari Chankhamma
There was really only one way that this story was going to end. Though it was possible, and still possible, that Yellowstone will erupt and prove the inhabitants of Safe Haven correct, the likely ending would be that with police standing at the door of this compound. To watch that inevitability play out over the fourteen issues so far has been a mix of adrenaline and devastating fatalism. As Lucas watches in horror the final straw go up in flames, Sheltered #14 brings the children their biggest challenge crashing through the front gate.
There is something twisted about how Christmas and Brisson have crafted the tale in Sheltered. The story’s central characters are murderers, but they are kids. They have made horrific choices, but all in the belief that they were saving themselves from certain end. Whether all members truly believed or not was never the point. These kids have all, even the ones that appear good, been complicit in some way with this plan. The only happy ending they can have is if they were justified in their actions, and the end comes for the rest of the world. This then leaves the reader in a position wherein they must fight with that very reality. The only way these characters are not simply murderers is if the world and the rest of humanity collapses. How could Christmas and Brisson have delicately crafted a story in which this could be the best end for the central characters? They have been able to invest the reader in the characters in such a way that, on some level, part of the reader wants the kids to have been right and therefore not have to face the reality of their unforgivable actions. With only a short time left in the world that has been crafted in Sheltered, the end is certainly nigh for much of the cast, in one way or another.
Another impressive act that Christmas and Brisson were able to accomplish in one panel in the last issue, and even continue here, is the tragic nature of Lucas. When the helicopter is destroyed in the final moments of issue 13, and Lucas recognizes what is to follow, readers may sympathize with this individual, so long ago lost in a fiction of heroism he built up in his head. A big part of why this becomes so convincing and so devastating is the art by Christmas and Chankhamma. Lucas may in fact be a monster and the events that he has orchestrated or carried out himself thus far in the series are certainly terrible. Even still, when the helicopter falls to the ground, with the other kids cheering behind him, his body language and facial features are so telling. Here, in issue fourteen, as the FBI are finally one fortified door away from the children of Safe Haven, Lucas’s defeated form and speech is hard to witness. Maybe for a moment readers hope that he was right, because he really is just a kid, and he might really have believed this story. Some of the most convincing tragedies involve a sympathetic villain. With Victoria shouting in hopes of saving her friends, and Lucas still clinging to the story his dad had convinced him of so long ago, the finale of Sheltered is a mix of fireworks and somber inevitability.
Sheltered has been captivating from the very beginning. The creative team was able to present a tale and hook so engaging that it became impossible to look away. The book has been heading towards a spectacular and violent end since the very start. But along the way, at every step, Christmas, Brisson and Chankhamma have crafted the tale carefully, developed fantastic characters and presented numerous conflicting sequences leaving readers truly uncertain of what to hope for. It has all come crashing down, and now all anyone can do is watch. There is definitely little hope of a happy ending.