I became so fixated on why these kids were doing what they were doing, that I failed to recognise the sheer panic and terror at hand. This may be my British background that has minimal recognition of the survivalist movement that is a very real phenomenon in North America. The idea that a worldwide catastrophe, be it a nuclear bomb or a natural disaster, may destroy civilisation as we know it is a very foreign concept to me. Hence my hesitation and inability to interpret the opening issues of this comic. The level of indoctrination that is required to convince the teenage children to murder their parents is beyond my comprehension and perhaps that of the creators too, because we have no references to that past. However what we do have are the consequences of that training, and an excellent exposition of children running amok and struggling to take responsibility for the reactions to violence. Welcome to Safe Haven, unfortunately it is anything but.
Where Ed Brisson succeeds is taking a firm grip on the teenage psyche and letting the emotions flow wildly and in some cases, gruesomely. What is really enjoyable is the complete spectrum of the “good” and “bad” kid, removing those cliché comic notions and replacing them with excellent character exposition. Victoria is the classic well-mannered girl who really wonders how she ever ended up in this situation, and I am sure she was duped into thinking the outcome would’ve been different to the one that panned out. Her role is to represent the normal rationale person and to care for the younger kids and find an escape. Lucas is the charming leader of the group who is so convincing that you wonder how a nice boy like him could have ever led this rebellion. He has a calm temperament and genuinely thinks of the well being of the camp as a whole. His handling of the more impressionable trigger-happy teenagers is quite commendable. As we slowly witness the skills he has to hand, you then begin to believe that he could’ve orchestrated this coup. The rest of the cast revolve around impulsive children wielding guns and crumbling emotionally in the realisation of actually hurting someone. This either manifests in despair or a reflex defensive response which only making their behaviour worse, case in point is the story of Curt.
Johnnie Christmas is able to bring a multitude of emotions to the fearful terrorised face of the fraught teenager. He utilises this in times of genuine fear but also in those circumstances when one of the characters is in shock at what he has actually done. Just compare Joey and Mitch expressions even though they are in direct opposition to each other. It is very difficult to explain how Christmas is able to manifest that loss of innocence look, perhaps it’s the slightly exaggerative screaming or the perpetual frowning of a mardy teenager. But the book is full of emotional vicissitudes and many of the characters actually cry. He also manages to make each character unique in appearance, not just in physical features but also in dress. Chankhamma’s colours are also responsible for this because you will notice, that despite much of the book being shot at night, there are vibrant hair colours and colourful clothing throughout. The scene at dusk is incredibly well rendered that it almost makes you forget the difficult conversation Lucas is having. The moonlighting in the woodland areas is gorgeous and the shading is very pretty indeed. This even applies to the flashlights providing sporadic illumination. The blood is always a bright red and accentuates the tragedy of the predicament and the general uneasiness of children fighting children.
This issue sees Victoria on the run as Lucas takes charge of Safe Haven, only to realise that more adults may be close to the scene. This is the first issue that actually brings hope to the comic because all issues that have gone before play out like a horror movie, you know more good people will die before there is any hint of escape. For such a long period of time the book managed to remain devoid of hope and was quite tough reading, especially when you see how some of the adults have been dealt with. This is where the true genius of the book lies because it is so well written and paced so diligently that we gain an appreciation for the revolving dynamics of a teen clique, whilst maintaining that unerring doomed feeling. We really want Victoria to escape and we hope that Lucas isn’t really mentally deranged; to the point where we are fooled into thinking he is beginning to see sense. Brisson has been taking away those notions as rapidly as he introduces them. The atmosphere is thick and heavy and we feel for the plight of the more innocent kids, yet become enraged at the dismissive attitude to life of the others. At its heart the book is reminiscent of the Lord of the Flies, and seems to embrace the chaos of the youth ruling the land. The collapse of civilisation may in actual fact be the plight of the younger generation, but some rational thought and sensible bodies could hopefully rectify that situation. There are few adults on the horizon so far, not that they may even be the solution to all these woes. I wait in eager anticipation whilst trying to manage the queasiness of the world Brisson, Christmas and Chankhama have created.
“No…God….I didn’t mean to”