In Review: Stronghold #3

This is a twisted tale I don't want to end.

The covers: Michael Grey is in a baseball stadium looking toward the sky in disbelief. He’s surrounded by the corpse of every fan in attendance who has been brutally murdered. Every. Fan. Blood is everywhere from the violence: on their heads and chests from entry points, to it being splattered on the steps and seats. Only Grey is unsullied by the crimson gore. His coloring is normal, while everyone and the setting is through a dirty rose colored filter. This is a terrific way for the reader to focus first on the protagonist and then take in the massacre that’s occurred around him. Excellent work from Ryan Kelly with Dee Cunniffe. Overall grade: A

The story: The alien character identified as Teacher in the previous issue hovers over the pitcher’s mound in a baseball stadium which grants it the ability to easily glide over the bloody bodies that litter the field. Its minions, also aliens, kill what survivors remains, with one saying as it blows out the back of a man’s head, “Poor animals. Poor, poor animals.” Their leader states that this is being done to draw the attention of the Zealot so that they may avenge the murders that occurred on their own homeworlds. Teacher produces a metal pad with the green outline of a human being with yellow paths within it. “The system will recognize itself,” it says. “All else will burn.” Meanwhile, two Stronghold agents are monitoring Grey’s progress getting home from purchasing another radio. He’s constructed a column of screens and radios so he can monitor what’s being broadcasted. It’s then that he realizes that he’s being monitored and writer Phil Hester has Stronghold go into evacuation mode. The evacuation of the facility was interesting, with one surprising member being recruited to join Holdmother’s assault team. Naturally, Grey makes his way to the stadium, but first he gets some mysterious information from a familiar character. There’s a lot of info given here, which makes sense for the story, but left me scratching my head. However, I want to learn with the protagonist, so Hester’s dialogue had the correct effect upon me. Once at the stadium truth is revealed and then someone appears, throwing this book in a new direction. This is what I like about this series: in only three issues Hester is constantly changing direction as new players appear, dole out tidbits of information, and Grey thinks he’s uncovered who he truly is, only to be confronted with something else. It’s a ride I’m really enjoying. Overall grade: A

The art: The first page is a full-paged splash that is deliriously insane: a robed alien hovering over a massacre of dead bodies with a large pink headed alien running around with a futuristic rifle. It’s sci-fi creepy that artist Ryan Kelly has done right. Teacher is a wonderfully designed nightmare and as Kelly pulls in tighter to the creature on Page 2 its ferocious nature is clearly on display. The tower of monitors that Grey has constructed in his apartment is also a full-paged splash and it’s a neat way to show how his technical skills are beyond most people. The turn of the head that ends 5 is ominous and to see it repeated on Page 6 is equally creepy. The covert action on 8 is neat, but I doubt any reader is prepared for what happens at the bottom of that page. Holdmother’s first appearance in this issue is striking, as she takes an authoritarian pose with her hands on her hips as she addresses an agent on a monitor. The design of the outfit on the character that speaks with her on 10 is neat and I love the visual clue that ends the page. Pages 11 and 12 remind me of scene from the movie Lucy because they have the same strong visual impact. Pages 17 and 18 have the same layout and they are outstanding: Grey’s silhouette dominates down the center of four horizontal panels as he walks forward. They are killer. Grey has some solid emoting when confronted with some truth on 19 and 20, with the panel that ends the latter a good surprise. From the design of the objects I knew who had arrived, but if the reader does not recognize them, the first panel on 21 makes them all too clear. The final page is another outstanding full-paged splash, this time looking down where the characters, living and dead, are. I love how Kelly can blend reality and twisted fiction so well. Overall grade: A

The colors: Having so many of the fans wearing orange shirts is an excellent way to have them lumped together in their slaughter. This also allows Teacher to really stand out among them and the perfect blue sky in its dead violets. Notice how on Page 2 colorist Dee Cunniffe reinforces the alien threat by coloring the borders in a light violet that matches teacher and its minions. Very smart. This smart coloring of the border is done often in the book to increase the tone; for example, on Page 3 the Stronghold panels are colored in a dull flat blue, matching the technology of the title group. The electric blues that paint Grey’s room that’s full of monitors increases the power of their output. The powerful pinks on 8 are cool. Neon oranges on 11 and 12 further separate Grey from humanity. The colors on 17 and 18 are killer, with the middle two panels in stark white and dark blues, making the characters stand out. Having a giant outline of Grey’s body in black enhances his god status in the series. I’m enjoying what Cunniffe is doing. Overall grade: A

The letters: Simon Bowland is a talented letterer and shows his skills in this issue by creating dialogue, the story’s title, narration, sounds, and whispered text. There’s a lot of dialogue in this issue as a lot — seriously, a lot — of information is stated and it’s always impressive to see a letterer who’s able to insert it into a panel without covering key visuals, such as on Pages 14 – 16. I am always pleased to see when narration and dialogue are given different fonts: different forms of communication should be visually differed. There are only a few sounds in this book and they resemble how they would sound if one were unfortunate enough to hear them. Twice in the book whispered text appears — for an aside and for a character’s broken state. Both are easy to read and maintain the proper emotion with which they are to be heard. Overall grade: A

The final line: More information is revealed about Grey’s past, but at the cost of a stadium of bodies. I love the mystery that Hester is creating. I cannot predict where this story is going and which characters are to be believed, but it’s one hell of a ride. The visuals are also great, creating some nightmarish actions alongside the reality of the everyday world. This is a twisted tale I don’t want to end. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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