“Sheltered” #13 feels like the moment right before a dive or a fall, in which the main actors hover on an edge, and only a small tip in the right or wrong direction will usher in a momentous change. For the kids of Safehaven, the enemy is literally at the gate, as their community is threatened by a Waco-like confrontation with local law enforcement. The whole series has been building up towards this inevitable discovery of Safehaven’s crimes, and Brisson and Christmas deliver on high expectations.
Brisson begins the issue by giving Mitch the spotlight, and out of all the remaining Safehaven residents, his loyalty to Lucas and to Safehaven’s goals is the most in question. His sister has been killed by one his peers and he’s argued openly with Lucas. He’s smart enough to think for himself, even if he’s followed Lucas’s lead. His role as spokesperson for Safehaven with the police thus adds another layer of tension, especially when the Agent Rivers mentions Hailey.
“Sheltered” has been fascinating in how the further in it goes, the more layers it has. Both Mitch and police say that they want to save lives and don’t want any trouble, and they are both sincere. The spotlight is still primarily on Safehaven kids, but Brisson dedicates unusual time to making the officers and agents of the law sympathetic and relatable. Indeed, one of the primary emotional effects of reading “Sheltered” #13 is feeling sorry for the police officers, who don’t want to be there and certainly don’t want to shoot any kids.
The scene that follows after the Mitch’s talk with the police also furthers Lucas’ characterization. He’s as manipulative and calculating as ever, but it seems that he’s really a true believer. The combination of ruthlessness and certainty is chilling but also worth pitying, because the reader knows that Lucas’ assumptions are off, that he is almost certainly wrong about the volcano eruptions that he’s counting on.
“Sheltered” #13 began with an extreme, potentially gimmicky concept, but it has fulfilled its promise, only getting better over time, without losing its powers of suspense. Neither Brisson nor Christmas have shied away or dodged the challenges of depicting cult leadership and related side phenomena like paranoia, dehumanization of others outside the group or an inability to discount sunk costs. In “Sheltered” #13, Brisson’s fast-paced dialogue and his mapping of all the underlying psychological relationships are allied with an admirable dedication to realism. He’s done his homework on cults and standoffs with law enforcement.
Christmas’ art carries a lot of the tension of the plot. “Sheltered” #13 is a quick read, but it’s thick with emotional impact. Christmas is very good at conveying strain in faces, and every character in “Sheltered” #13 is probably more stressed out than they’ve ever been before. Christmas’ smooth transitions are crucial to Brisson’s fast-paced script, and their combined work is riveting. Chankhamma’s color work continues to be understated. When she adds a pop of light or bright color, it’s always good for the story.
“Sheltered” has been consistently strong and full of surprises, but the last few issues have been a new high watermark. Since its attention-grabbing beginning, Brisson and Christmas pursued its themes and plot possibilities with admirable curiosity and grace.