A Stronghold Of Secrets


by Vince Brusio

Caught up in your own world is usually called daydreaming. But when you’re an omnipotent God of your own making, caught up in your own world may mean that you’re imprisoned for good reason. Writer Phil Hester explains in his latest book Stronghold #1 (DEC181439) for AfterShock Comics that self-awareness comes with a price…and we all have to ask ourselves if it’s worth it.


Vince Brusio: Stronghold has us envision planet Earth in a whole new light. Gone is the concern about things like global warming, as the planet exploding may actually be a good thing given the toxic entity that walks on it. This entity is literally death on two legs, and yet his existence is banal. So how did you conceive of such a concept that turns our Earth science inside out and backward?

Phil Hester: I think everyone, especially in their teens, feels like they don't fit in with this world. I wanted to tell the story of a character who not only feels this, but is literally correct. He is not of this world. Well, if that's the case, how did he get here? When did he get here? Why doesn't he know it? Who is keeping him from knowing this? Does he really want to know after all?

Comic book readers are familiar with the idea of the normal person who is secretly something more, something epically heroic. In fact, we're probably inured to it. I wanted to explore a character who doesn't wake up to find himself King Arthur, or Spider-Man, or Neo from the Matrix, but old prophet Paul Atreides, weary cuckold King Arthur, or hermit Luke Skywalker–someone who has already lived a heroic, maybe bloody life, and has found the consequences so traumatic they question whether their heroism was worth pursuing at all, and want nothing more than to blot it from history. How does he make that happen, and what happens when he rebels against his self-imposed exile?  

Vince Brusio: The psychology of Michael Grey, his inner thinking and feelings, must be incomprehensible if he becomes enlightened, correct? He must altogether have a different way of processing tactile or auditory input. Or is this not the case? Is he more grounded and “human” at the point where we first meet the character?

Phil Hester: Yes. We see all this come to light in issue 3. I guess the easy analogy is to someone who is snowed under on too many mood-controlling drugs. Grey can function and kind of hum along in a stifling, drone-like existence without ever wondering what else he's capable of. He's a battleship that never leaves the harbor. But once Claire exposes him to his true nature, the scales fall from his eyes. However, there's still some mysterious force that limits his full awakening. Part of the fun of the book is seeing him rediscover these gifts bit by bit, and the price he has to pay for each.

Vince Brusio: In the December PREVIEWS catalog, we see the cover of the book which appears to show dead bodies on the ocean floor while Mr. Grey walks among them. Yet, on the opposite page, he appears to be rescuing people trapped in a submerged car. So which is it: dead bodies don’t bother him, or he flings himself off of bridges to play Good Samaritan when he feels the cause is just?

Phil Hester: I think that's just our inner Stan Lee coming out. Grey feels compelled to rescue the girl and doesn't fully grasp why. After doing so, he finds the bottom of the flooded river a good place to sit and think about how he's able to do what he just did. We picked that unearthly moment to highlight on the cover, and added some extra wreckage and bodies to give it a more ominous tone, and — not to spoil anything —foreshadow some events to come.

Vince Brusio: Describe the nature of your script handed over to artist Ryan Kelly. What did you stress in your directions for drafting artwork? What did you decide was important to accentuate, and where did you let Ryan cut loose? Or did you take a completely different approach on how Ryan rendered his visuals?

Phil Hester: It's always tough for me because I'm an artist myself, and I almost always "see" a script as I'm writing it. I definitely have at least some mental image of how the panels should be staged. I include some basic panel and camera description like, "low angle, medium shot," or, "character at panel left in close up," but nothing too onerous. No Alan Moore-style concordances required to interpret the script. 

Ryan is a gifted storyteller. Maybe because I'm artist with a strong interest in storytelling myself, I feel like I should not only respect, but value the changes he might make in the scripts I hand him. It's a collaborative medium. That means I shouldn't chafe against the angles my partners bring to the table, but riff on them. Ryan brought his “A” game. I hope the script lives up to the promise of his art.

Vince Brusio: Why did you write this story? How is it personal to you? Does it reflect anything that’s happened to you in your personal life? Does it somehow mirror your own world view?

Phil Hester: I guess everyone has a sneaking suspicion, or even hope, that they are capable of more than their current role in life. Everyone gets frustrated by the nagging, mundane complications of living. We all think there's a hero inside of us waiting for the right moment to come out. But as I've grown older, I see nothing comes without a price, not even something as natural as being yourself. Stronghold is about that struggle between accessing your true identity and the cost it will inflict on those around you. For normal people, it may engender a divorce, or a career change, or a family estrangement, but for a character with mysterious, cosmic roots, it could mean the death of a planet. Is claiming your identity worth the annihilation of another's? Two others? A billion?



Vince Brusio writes about comics, and writes comics. He is the long-serving Editor of PREVIEWSworld.com, the creator of PUSSYCATS, and encourages everyone to keep the faith...and keep reading comics.

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