Writer: Phil Hester
Artist: Ryan Kelly
The third issue of Stronghold finally elaborates upon its previously vague premise. It properly establishes the circumstances surrounding “the Zealot’s” imprisonment on Earth as insurance underwriter Michael Grey. The specifics of what he actually is, aside from being nearly god-like, are still developing. Thankfully, the series has managed to gradually present and solve its mysteries without expending them all in one installment. Issue #3 is no exception. Stronghold has a quick pace without feeling rushed. The story still has more than enough room to breathe, though. A little too much room in some places.
Stronghold #3 develops a number of core concepts and characters. This is done in a brief but nonetheless satisfying manner. However, it also apparently eliminates them from the story. As much as I appreciate Stronghold’s brisk pacing, the drawbacks become apparent in areas like this. I think the story could benefit from keeping certain elements around. If only because they don’t seem to have anything to replace them with. Stronghold’s novel premise certainly leaves the comic a lot of different places to explore. But it needs to start pacing itself out to prevent itself from going out of control.
While this is arguably the most important issue yet, the protagonists have very little presence. Michael learns some cataclysmic things about himself and the world he inhabits. But he doesn’t get to formulate a real response to any of it. It’s starting to look as though Michael is more of a plot device than an actual character. His reactions alone could fill an entire issue and the little we see of them is more compelling than anything else in the story. Claire continues to be elusive, almost absurdly so. Her impulsive, possibly world-ending decision could benefit from some more context. She barely has a role in this is an issue so it doesn’t get around to that either.
As Stronghold’s plot advances and its stranger elements come to the forefront, Ryan Kelly proves to be a great pick for the artist. His alien designs are a good fit for the story and they sit at a neat intersection between being exaggerated and threatening. The lighting has also improved a good deal and the depictions of Michael’s true vision are particularly well done. This issue plays around with the framing and panel layouts. At times it feels a bit clumsy but for the most part, it’s a clever, immersive representation of the reality-bending abilities Michael has rediscovered. It more than makes up for the weaker aspects of previous issues.
Stronghold #3 moves fast, and not always in the right direction but the series continues to deliver.