This is it folks. The finale to Sheltered, one of my favorite Image Comics series currently and one that I named one of the best of the year in 2014. The last issue was utterly incredible and earned a legendary 10 out of 10 in my book, delivering a near perfect climax to a series. That’s a lot to live up to for this final issue, so can this series do it? Can it stick the landing and go out with a bang? Is it good?
Sheltered #15 (Image Comics)
Judging by the springtime weather, it’s several months later after the events of the last issue. Lucas is dead as a doornail, Victoria is trying to get on with her life, people are still talking about the events that happened in Safe Haven, and pretty much the remaining surviving kids are all locked up. What happens now for these people? Where do they go?
I’m going to be as honest and truthful as I can about this. This is as a close to a perfect finale for a series that I have ever read. It did so much right and wrapped up almost everything in just the most fitting and satisfying way it possibly could. It’s the kind of issue that makes me almost glad I invested all my time into it. However, and it completely pains me to say this, the ending page (in particular, the final two panels) absolutely kills this issue and unfortunately the entire series in my eyes and will for a lot of others. In order for me to fully explain my thoughts and why the comic got the score it did, I have to dive into spoilers. So I apologize in advance and suggest you just skip to the end. This is going to be rather disappointing.
To start with, let’s focus on what’s good before we get to the downfall. Except for the ending, every storyline, subplot, and character’s story was wrapped up perfectly. Every note that was hit and everyone’s fate that we saw felt right and deserving. Everyone got what they had coming to them, we get to see every single character who was still alive and played some role in the story have a moment, and every bit of it felt engrossing. Even if some characters didn’t get as much development as others, it still felt great to see them here and find out about how they were doing. It’s a solid wrap up story-wise, while also giving a dose of good characterization and final development to boot.
The writing and artwork are both still pretty good as well here. The pacing makes the story go by quickly, but you don’t notice it since you end up taking your time reading every scene closely. The dialogue is great and has a lot of good bits and characterization. The artwork does a decent job depicting the characters (some seem a bit too sketchy and rough at points), setting up the easy to follow layouts, and adding some good coloring at parts. There’s not much to say here that you wouldn’t already know from reading and seeing past issues and frankly, these areas are still very strong.
However, this is where things change. The ending the comic gives ruins everything in just two panels. All of the things that made this series great from the strong story, the characters’ struggles, and big surprises all rendered pointless in the very end. Now this is where we get to the spoilers, so be prepared: It turns out that Lucas, the 17 year old sort of cultist leader, master manipulator, and essentially serial killer (he did orchestrate all of the parents’ deaths and killed anyone who opposed him) was in the end, right. The final two panels of the comic show on TV that the super volcano in Yellowstone Park, that he somehow predicted, ends up exploding out of nowhere and the comic ends with the grim note that everyone is going to die (implied, but if you know anything about super volcanoes, everyone’s screwed).
Honestly, this feels incredibly cheap and feels like it came out of nowhere. Yes, Lucas at the very beginning of the series was mentioning that he noticed there were increased earthquake activity in the area and this could be a sign of the volcano about to go kablooie, but that was it. We saw no evidence of this, just him telling the characters and audience that, while keeping the information to himself for the most part. It’s awful honestly, destroying everything, cheapening the great issue and potential of the ending with a rather lame and cruel twist tossed in without thought, while also making no sense remotely if you actually think about it. In fact, let’s break this down and list the reasons for why this ruins the comic.
Lucas, a 17 year old, is somehow smarter than professional geologists, seismologists, and similar scientists and was able to predict this volcano going off. He has no training in this field, no college degree or real world experience with this, and has nothing but a laptop and a bunch of old data that any normal scientist should have access to it. You would think someone other than him would have noticed.
The fact that Lucas was right in the end, in some cruel and sick way, justifies most of his actions. Killing of the people that would have opposed him (all of the parents and other kids), acting like a manipulator and telling people not to date each other, acting almost like a cult leader figure, and more. All of that was in the right in order to save these kids, while Victoria was in the wrong for trying to expose how crazy he was. It feels so messed up.
In this issue in a couple of scenes, we see or hear about how people are starting to look up to Lucas or see him as some incredible person, maybe even believing some of his ideas about the super volcano going off (not exactly stated, but you figure some probably do since there is confirmation of completely paranoid and conspiracy theorists out there). As such, in response, don’t you think there would be prominent scientists or experts that would quickly look at the data Lucas had (I don’t recall his laptop getting destroyed and you figure the kids would have testified in court or we’d have seen police records about why they did what they did) and try to discredit him to quiet any rumors. You know, to prove the end isn’t coming? Apparently not for whatever reason, so again, somehow neither scientists nor the government knew that the volcano was going to go off.
There would be warning signs far, far in advance that people would have noticed before the super volcano exploded. I did some research out of curiosity about this and from what I found, the kind of eruption that a super volcano would have would have been noticed weeks to months to possibly even years in advance. There would have been huge earthquake swarms and rapid ground deformation (Lucas said in the first issue there has been increased earthquake activity, but that could mean anything in Yellowstone since there are quite a few quakes). This is not some kind of Hollywood disaster film, people would have seen this coming from a mile away and it wouldn’t be out of the blue.
Even with all that said, in the end, the fact is that super volcano exploded and everyone is now dead. Whether or not Lucas would have gotten away with his plan would have meant nothing in the end. Super volcanoes are incredibly destructive for many different reasons and there was no way some little settlement or underground bunker would have saved these kids or teens. As such, you have to wonder, what was the point in the end? All of this story, the struggles the characters had, their own individual arcs, the subplots and inner conflict going on, and more would have been pointless. No one was going to survive and everything we saw happen would have been for naught, just killing time until the story kills everyone with nothing accomplished. The whole story is rendered meaningless; everyone tries to survive and then they die anyways. No message, no theme, or no interesting talking point. Just the end.
This ending just does not work remotely and truly feels like a slap in the face to everyone who put their time and money into this series. All that time you spent caring about the characters and what big thing will happen next was going to be meaningless and amount to nothing. What makes it so bad is that the panels could have been taken out and everything would be fine. It just feels tacked on and frustrating. It’s like the ending to Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins to the Moon, where you play a character trying to survive after most of the world has died. The game ends with you finally meeting up with some survivors and finding a love interest, but then it quickly has this out of nowhere narration where the player says that years later everyone he knows now will be dead and he’ll be all alone once again. It feels like that, a last bit of unneeded story that sours the experience and makes it feel like the journey was for nothing. It’s not that I would have minded a bittersweet or downer ending, like Victoria committing suicide because she can’t live with the guilt of being unable to save her family and friends (thought the story was going that way), but this just not the right way to go about it.
Is It Good?
Sheltered #15 is like a gymnast doing an amazing routine on the bars and when she goes for the landing, she breaks her legs upon hitting the ground. This a comic that has a great conclusion to a lot of the storylines and characters, but the ending ruins it all. There’s so much right about this comic and series in general, but in two panels, it’s all dashed by a cheap and tacked on twist. I’m never going to come back to this series because of this ending, knowing where everything will eventually lead to. It honestly makes it difficult to recommend the series. I would say maybe read it if you could get a friend to rip out the final page in the comic for you.