Writer: Phil Hester
Artist: Ryan Kelly and Dee Cunniffe
The second issue of Stronghold fleshes out the setting, even if the protagonist is largely out of the spotlight. Issue #1 revealed that a secret religion created a dull life for the god-like Primacy, in order to imprison him on Earth. Stronghold defector Claire reveals this truth to “Michael Grey,” the identity forced onto this being. This leaves him desperately struggling to come to terms with his abilities and the lies that made up his old life. Issue #2 examines the fallout of this revelation, even if Michael himself is largely absent from the story. With their meticulous plans thrown into disarray, Stronghold is quickly falling victim to internal power struggles. This issue also introduces the “Adversary” a daemonic figure apparently responsible for all the ills of the world.
While Michael and Claire are decent protagonists, writer Phil Hester is doing something interesting with the aptly named Adversary. His introduction establishes him as a horrific, otherworldly figure. A clear sense of pragmatism conflicts with his strangeness. This is a common archetype, especially in independent comics. But the Adversary is clearly far more than a malign puppet master. He has the will and at times the inclination to do genuine good, in contrast with his otherwise reprehensible activities. The Adversary’s true nature will be a compelling mystery for this series to unravel. It also begs the question of just what sort of threat Michael poses.
Issue #2 also further establishes the function and scope of the Stronghold organization. There’s still plenty left unsaid. But Hester clearly knows what to show and what to hide from the reader. Stronghold successfully walks the fine line between a complex and convoluted story. Right now it’s closer to the former. The mere threat of Michael’s powers brings together otherwise disparate and independent groups. At this point, most of the character are operating individually or even against each other. But their shared, desperate obsession with Michael gives the narrative a singular focus that makes this setup manageable.
Ryan Kelly’s art works better in issue #2 than #1. His art style has a very classic atmosphere and it works well with the tone and content of Stronghold. Additionally, Kelly’s work never clashes with Stronghold’s heavy usage of narration, which isn’t seen too often in comics these days. Dee Cunniffe’s colors have also improved. Stronghold’s tone has been considerably developed in this issue and previously questionable choices are now entirely appropriate. Stronghold has set up a compelling mystery and the art has played a major part in ensuring the success of that effort.
Stronghold #2 improves upon the first issue and bodes well for the rest of the series.