Love is coming to AfterShock Comics this February, love of the dark and cosmic variety (aw yeah!), via Stronghold, a new comic from Phil Hester (The Coffin, Deathstroke, Shipwreck) and Ryan Kelly (The Wicked & The Divine, Lucifer, Saucer Country).

In Stronghold, two lovers meet, time stops, and it seems like nothing exists outside of the bond forged between understanding souls amid a cold existence that forgives so little…and then it turns out that one of them is actually a cosmic angel of destruction.

Here’s the plot synopsis:

Our planet is actually a prison designed to both trap and shelter an amnesiac alien entity of incalculable power. Now known as Michael Grey, this cosmic angel of destruction currently believes himself to be an ordinary, midwestern insurance underwriter, who belongs to a global secret society dedicated to making sure he never discovers the truth about his past.

To make matters worse, our hero has fallen in love with Michael Grey. And for their love to be born, Earth must die.

It’s a fresh premise, to be sure, especially the romance bit. The creator-owned market is pretty saturated with new sci-fi and horror concepts, many of them from publishers like AfterShock (and Image and Dark Horse and Vault and Black Mask and so on), but romance comics are still relatively sparse (one might say untapped, but, c’mon, too easy).

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In a statement announcing the book, Hester, who is perhaps best known for his artwork but is pulling writing duties here, elaborated:

“Stronghold is about a college student and delivery driver named Claire who has fallen in love with a sad sack insurance adjuster on her delivery route named Michael Grey. Claire also happens to belong to a centuries-old secret society called The Stronghold who believes this insurance adjuster is actually an immortal, amnesiac elder god whose awakening would ignite a cosmos-wide Armageddon.

Like all young people, Claire feels restless in her strict faith, but when she tests it by revealing herself to Grey, the results threaten to destroy not only her order, but the world. On the run from The Stronghold, alien enemies, and Grey’s own broken, haunting memories, they both realize that for their love to be born, Earth must die.

A story that begins as a lively, adventurous romance spins into a deeper, darker science fiction tale of existential terror and ultimate sacrifice. It’s very much in the flavor of past work of mine like The Coffin and Deep Sleeper (both with Mike Huddleston). If that’s not enough to hook you, come for Ryan Kelly’s amazing artwork, which alone is worth the cover price. He’s really leveled up on this one. As an artist myself, I’m in awe.”

Stronghold is due out February 20, just in time for anyone who messes everything up and then reads this and feels better because at least their not the ones whose romantic situation can be described in a way that ends with, “for their love to be born, Earth must die.”

Here’s the full solicitation for the forthcoming book, some additional art by Kelly, and more quotes from Hester about his influences and on balancing cosmic doom with intimate romance (hot!):

PHIL HESTER ON SOME OF THE PRIMARY INFLUENCES THAT LED HIM TO THE BOOK:

“Like every kid, I was enthralled by “hidden destiny” stories like King Arthur, The Prydain Chronicles, and then as a young adult, stuff like Mage and Dune. As I matured, I saw how these stories were much more than wish fulfillment or simple power fantasies, but cautionary tales about how stepping onto the heroic stage often costs you your personal happiness. I wanted to take that one step further and ask, what if pulling the sword from the stone not only wrecked your life, but all life? Is claiming your identity worth annihilating everything you love? Is taking that red pill worth ruining everyone else’s lives?”

PHIL HESTER ON BALANCING THE TELLING OF AN INTIMATE ROMANCE AGAINST A BACKDROP DEPICTING A CATACLYSMIC STORY OF LITERAL EARTH-SHATTERING PROPORTIONS:

“Nothing heightens the unreality of a fantastical story like keeping the real aspects of it authentic. What makes Stephen King’s work scary isn’t the big bad monster as much as how effectively he contrasts it with the reality of everyday life. The most frightening parts of The War of the Worlds radio broadcast or the original Night of the Living Dead film are hearing and seeing the mundane media reports struggling to grasp the bizarre events. To maintain that contrast, I sort of have to keep a bright line in my mind between the down-to-earth details of falling in love and the vast cosmic cataclysm yawning underneath everyone’s feet. If a reader can feel the authenticity of the relationship, they’ll feel like they have a stake in its success or failure in the face of these otherworldly forces.”

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