Charting One’s Own Fate With Stronghold #4

by Josh Davison

[*Mild Spoilers Ahead!]

The Stronghold has imprisoned Michael in a series of false lives to keep his mind occupied and body pacified. They show Michael in various jobs and roles until he finally breaks free and finds Claire outside the machine waiting for him. They run into some trouble with the local police before continuing their search for the Apostate. The Apostate is their only hope against the Stronghold, but the Holdmother won’t let them escape that easily.

Stronghold #4 cover by Ryan Kelly and Dee Cunniffe
Stronghold #4 cover by Ryan Kelly and Dee Cunniffe

Stronghold #4 is my first experience with Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly’s Stronghold series from AfterShock. While the opening sequence was strange and deliberately repetitious, both it and what follows introduced me to the plot and world of the book quite well.

I go back and forth on how easily a comic should introduce even new readers to its story at a midpoint in the series. If you’re too inviting, you risk just doing recap for the book. If you’re too alienating, it could just be frustrating for a new reader to try the series.

Stronghold #4 hits the sweetspot where it’s intriguing to a new reader while making its own story clear and advancing the story at a good clip for those already familiar with the comic.

Michael and Claire are compelling leads, with the former being some kind of superhuman looking for answers and the latter being a young woman without direction but eager for purpose. The Stronghold itself is an interesting fixture, and it has Michael and Claire constantly questioning how much agency they have and if there is any true escape from the Stronghold.

Stronghold #4 art by Ryan Kelly, Dee Cunniffe, and letterer Simon Bowland
Stronghold #4 art by Ryan Kelly, Dee Cunniffe, and letterer Simon Bowland

Ryan Kelly’s artwork looks wonderful, giving the book a grounded feeling with its highly-detailed aesthetic and emotive characters. While some of the visuals are certainly surreal, the book never feels too far removed from reality. Dee Cunniffe’s color art brings a nice balance that compliments that grounded aesthetic.

Stronghold #4 is a highly compelling and thoughtful comic that shows the struggles of escaping from a cult and the different forms hope can take, whether or not that hope is fabricated. It’s a great read and had me eager for more. This one gets a recommendation; feel free to give this one a read

Stronghold #4 comes to us from creators Phil Hester, Ryan Kelly, and Tyler Walpole, writer Phil Hester, artist Ryan Kelly, color artist Dee Cunniffe, letterer Simon Bowland, and cover artist Ryan Kelly with Dee Cunniffe.

Final Score 8.5/10

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