Cosmic Truce Hangs In The Balance In Stronghold #1

by Brendan M. Allen

Our planet is actually a prison designed to both trap and shelter an amnesiac alien entity of incalculable power. Now known as Michael Grey, this cosmic angel of destruction currently believes himself to be an ordinary midwestern insurance underwriter. Enter Claire, a young delivery girl who belongs to a global secret society dedicated to making sure he never discovers the truth about his past.

Claire has fallen in love with Michael. For their love to be born, Earth must die.

Michael Grey is an interesting cat. In the opening sequence of Stronghold #1, this mild mannered insurance underwriter throws all caution to the wind and leaps headlong into a river to save a child trapped in a car beneath the rushing water.

Why? Makes no sense. This guy is all about risk evaluation. He leapt on a hunch. A feeling that he could make a difference. That he could be MORE. And he was right. Turns out, he’s an all powerful extraterrestrial being, whose lack of knowledge about his own origin is the only thing standing between mankind and the utter and complete destruction of Earth.

Then, there’s this girl Claire, whose family belongs to a secret society (read cult) that’s only purpose is placating Grey and keeping him ignorant of his own omnipotence. Claire is at the end of her “gap year,” which is The Stronghold’s version of Amish Rumshpringe. Members have to leave the enclave for a calendar year and decide whether they’ll take the vow and dedicate their lives to the cause, or leave forever and lose all contact with their families forever.

Oh yeah. The girl’s kind of in love with the alien and really, really wants to spill the beans, even though it could very well spell her own violent demise.

Phil Hester gives us a lot of insight into the headspace of these two main characters in this opening chapter. Grey constantly has stats and liabilities running through his head. Cool. Calculated. Claire? She’s headstrong. Resents The Stronghold’s strong arm tactics in cult member retention, but really loves her da’ and wouldn’t bail on him for anything, so she’ll play along for the time being. A lot to take in, for sure. Thankfully, Hester holds back on the bigger picture for the time being to allow us to process for a minute.

Ryan Kelly’s linework has a throwback feel that calls back to some of the more memorable titles from the nineties. Slightly too-large heads on excessively curved and muscled bodies, big fat gutters that pull the eye through sequences. It’s a well used style, but fits the tone of Stronghold.

A little bit Truman Show, some Resident Alien, MIB, and some backward Matrix concepts, there’s a lot to unpack here. Thankfully, the creative team gives it up in manageable little chunks. This thing could go a few different ways. It’ll be interesting to see which path we end up heading down.

Stronghold #1, AfterShock Comics, released 20 February 2019. Created by Phil Hester, Ryan Kelly, and Tyler Walpole. Written by Phil Hester, art by Ryan Kelly, color by Dee Cuniffe, letters by Simon Bowland, logo designed by Emma Price, cover by Ryan Kelly w/ Dee Cuniffe, variant covers available by Phil Hester w/ Dee Cuniffe, Tyler Walpole.

Brendan M. Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he mostly tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.

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