In "Sheltered" #7 by Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas, Murphy's Law bites budding young cult leader Lucas in the butt as one wrong move results in a domino effect of consequences.
The setting of "Sheltered" makes Safe Haven an island. In this kind of story about an isolated community, it's inevitable, and thus predictable, that an outsider would come across Safe Haven unexpectedly. It is also inevitable that Lucas' planning and leadership would have some weaknesses, and "Sheltered" #7 is about when everything comes apart at once for the young leader with bloody hands.
The pacing of "Sheltered" #7 thus feels compressed. There's almost too much pay-dirt at once, because it still feels like early days post-parricidal-massacre. Violence, a messy chase sequence and heated conversations tumble one after the other, making the issue fly by on split blood and anger. It feels rushed, but perhaps not unduly so. The staccato pace of events is appropriate to the unraveling situation and it amplifies the panic that the characters feel.
It was clear from the beginning that Victoria was going to be the Heroine, but here, Brisson makes her too obvious as a mouthpiece. While her confrontation with Mitch is cathartic, it also feels artificial in how Victoria has all the answers. Her competence and clarity when all her peers have succumbed to mob mentality and a cult of personality make her exceptional. She's larger than life and here and the reader wants to cheer for her, but all this heroic behavior by itself also makes her a flatter character, and Brisson doesn't add humanizing details. Her actions in the second half of "Sheltered" 7 are more subtle, plot-wise, but still cookie-cutter predictable.
The catalyst for the bloodshed, Lucas, is still a mystery. Does he drink his own Kool-Aid? It's unclear whether his anguish is over the challenge to his authority or actual fear about survival. Right now, Brisson continues to hold this answer back, which is simultaneously tantalizing and frustrating, but probably wise too. Lucas is the mystery at the heart of the tragedy and thus, he is the real center of the series even though he's also the antagonist.
Though none of the events are a huge surprise given the setup, Brisson's dialogue and Christmas' art make the suspense taut and the emotions poignant. Christmas' facial expressions are excellent, particularly for the anguish in Cliff's eyes as he says to himself, "Oh God. Cliff, how're you going to live with this?" The art, and to a lesser degree the dialogue, carry the characterization in "Sheltered" #7. There's so much muscle tension in the faces of the characters that almost every character inspires sympathy, even Lucas. Curt, the hyperactive trigger-happy henchman on the cover, is ironically the exception, since he's sociopathic in his lack of remorse.
"Sheltered" #7 ends with a one-on-one confrontation that was coming since issue #1. That these two characters would meet again was pretty much mandatory. While it's too early for either to be killed off, it's otherwise uncertain what Brisson has coming next. After this issue, the path of the plot will probably become more difficult to guess. That's the real cliffhanger. The series would benefit from some more character development and thematic development along with the torrent of action in its pages, but it's holding up as strong dystopian suspense story.