Review – Stronghold #1 (AfterShock Comics)

Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Phil Hester
Artist: Ryan Kelly
Colourist: Dee Cunniffe
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Release Date: 20th February 2019

Continuing a recent wave of new titles, AfterShock hit us with one more here in STRONGHOLD, which features a pretty intriguing premise. Imagine you had god-like power but decided to slum it with the rest of us mere mortals? Now image that manifesting your abilities and taking on your birthright could spell the end of humanity? Would that change your decisions or actions? Tackling issues of self-identity, fate and purpose, STRONGHOLD is a weird mix of science-fiction, age-old prophecy, and… love story, I guess?

Our protagonists couldn’t be more different. The first, Michael, is an insurance underwriter who has essentially sleepwalked his way through life, and the other, Claire, is a young vibrant delivery worker just back from a gap year of soul-searching. Oh, I probably should have also mentioned that the former is a godlike alien being who is not fully aware of their true nature and the latter is a member of secret society tasked with preventing the former from actualising their powers. And yeah, the members of this secret society have bleeding edge nanotech which manifests itself like magical abilities.

The writing is pretty full-on and whips along at quite a pace. There’s a fair bit to summarise, but in a nutshell this is a story of individuals in controlled situations. Are we the product of our upbringing destined to play out the roles imagined and planned by our forebears, or can we, unlike the anecdotal leopard, ever change our spots? Without getting political, it’s a pertinent topic lately and the concept of choice and consequence resonate without being in the slightest bit preachy.

Adding to this impressive tone is some wonderfully complementary artwork. The pairing of Kelly and Cunniffe deliver some truly intricate and detailed panels which frequently put you uncomfortably close to the action. It lends the book an almost claustrophobic quality which forces you into the characters’ head space. At first the imagery of STRONGHOLD threw me a curveball which irked ever so slightly based on my flawed preconceptions, but you just have to let go and roll with it. Credit also to Simon Bowland here as there’s some wordy exposition that never infringes on the action or visuals.

For me, and if I’m being blunt, there’s potentially a little too much going on in STRONGHOLD for a single issue, despite me actually enjoying it quite a bit. In saying that, the story and characters aren’t bamboozling or difficult to follow and its well-paced, so maybe that’s actually a good thing on reflection. It’s certainly healthy to be wrenched out of your comfort zone every now and again, and the creative team here definitely look set to carve out their own style with this one.

Rating: 4/5.


The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster

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