Writer: Phil Hester
Artist: Ryan Kelly
Colorist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Review by Jared Gafford
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you mixed the biblical story of Jesus, with aliens and a Superman archetype? Well that’s exactly what you get in Stronghold #1, a brand new book from juggernaut publisher AfterShock Comics. Now I know what you’re all thinking, “Haven’t we already seen this story of an alien Savior before?” Honestly, that’s what I was expecting going into this book. However much to my surprise, this is not the same recycled story we’ve been getting for decades in comics. Somehow Phil Hester and Ryan Kelly manage to tell a familiar tale, while still delivering a fresh new take that grabbed me from the beginning.
Stronghold at it’s core is the story of a man named Michael. Raised as a ward of the state, Micheal has a prohibitively fuzzy memory of his past, so much so that he doesn’t even remember his own birthday. When a freak accident takes place, he realizes he may not be as normal as he thought he was. This mystery leads Michael to start searching for answers, and what he finds, will change his world forever.
As Michael continues to put the pieces together, we are introduced to Claire, a spunky young agent for a secret organization known as the Stronghold. More of a religious group than anything, the Stronghold is tasked with protecting the world from an all powerful being known simply as The Primacy.
Phil Hester is a veteran in the comic industry, so I expected nothing less than greatness going into this book and I was not disappointed. He is an Eisner nominated writer and has been in the business for over twenty years. He has worked on books such as Swamp Thing, Green Arrow, Nightwing, and Wonder Woman just to name a few. Over the past few decades, Hester has earned a reputation as phenomenal writer, and Stronghold is no exception.
The writing in this book was fluid, easy to follow, and engaging from the get go. There is something comforting about a protagonist who feels just as lost in this crazy world as we are. It allows us as readers, to connect with the characters in a way that builds investment in the story. Grabbing the reader from the very beginning is critical with a new independent comic. Hester not only manages to do that, but he also left me wanting more immediately upon reaching the conclusion.
Ryan Kelly, known primarily for his half decade run on the book Lucifer from Vertigo Comics, does a superb job setting up this new world. The style itself is not necessarily anything revolutionary, however the way Kelly is able to capture emotion is exceptional. It was incredibly easy to get a read on what each of these characters was thinking and feeling throughout the book.
Many times when reading a comic, one of two things can happen. The art can either be a distraction from the story, or it can facilitate the readers ability to get lost in the story. Kelly perfectly allows the latter to take place. Never once while reading this first issue was I thrown off or distracted by the artwork. The combination of Hester’s writing and Kelly’s art make for an excellent first offering.
Dee Cunniffe flawlessly pulls everything together with his vibrant and intentional colors. The variety of palette’s used throughout this first issue really helped set the tone for each new environment we experience. Last, but certainly not least, Simon Bowland ties the story together with his perfectly placed lettering.
Overall, this is fantastic first issue. It delivers everything you want from a brand new property. Intrigue, mystery, compelling characters, and fantastic art really make this a book you do not want to miss. Stronghold was released just last week on February 20th, 2019 and should still be available at most comic book retailers. Make sure to pick this up and most importantly, add it to your pull list. You won’t be sorry.