01/02/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Rebellion/2000AD. 336 page softcover black and white graphic novel. Price: £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-905437-15-3.
check out website: www.2000adonline.com and www.rebellion.co.uk
Back in 1978, following the success of '2000AD', IPC released a second mag called 'Starlord'. Whereas the former had and still has its editor in the mighty Tharg, 'Starlord' had the Doomlord, which pretty much summed up his career after the comic folded after twenty-two issues and its best strips were carried over to '2000AD'. To me, though, the real star was Johnny Alpha, the star of the strip 'Strontium Dog'. Not because he was a mutant distinguished by glowing eyes that could generate alpha wave radiation that allowed him something equivalent to x-ray radiation when he needed it and to get inside of the minds of the felons he pursued when he got up close to them. What was really striking was the reality he lived in with little explanation other than it was just there and get on with it.
Exposure to strontium-90 after a major nuclear war in 2150 resulted in the next generation of humans mutating physically into distorted body shapes, sometimes with super-human physiology, thirty years later. It also developed into a caste system and the mutants were not allowed to work and starved, hence many turned to crime. The one job that they could be employed for and some took up, mostly because humans didn't want to do it, was bounty hunting as Search/Destroy agents which ultimately gave them the nickname of Strontium Dogs. In many respects, other than his eyes, Johnny Alpha got off rather lightly.
These then are the first of Johnny's adventures with his human partner, a time-displaced Norseman, Wulf Sternhammer, whose origin we won't know for some time, as they travel to various planets in pursuit of their bounties, dead or alive. Except for their weapons arsenal, this could even be regarded as a western in space except the level of prejudice took it beyond cowboys and bandits. Unlike a certain Mega-City law officer, Johnny Alpha has heart and his touches of kindness, like giving his bounty to worse-off mutants shows he's run on more than making money. Sometimes, it's just a game of brinkmanship with some of the other bounty hunters before the pursuit begins.
As commented above, you are chucked into the middle of this reality and adventures which allowed its main creator/writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra to make it entirely their own. The back of the book has different writers and artists for the 'Starlord Summer Special' that shows how markedly different their styles are to the main team, even when they use the same designs. I should point out that 'Strontium Dog' didn't even have colour even when it went to '2000AD', although this was rectified in his first reprint series.
Picking out favourite stories from this first volume is difficult as they work out from different problems. The introduction of the timid Gronks who make great medics also showed the importance of the distinctive vocal traits of Johnny's support characters. 'Oh, my poor heartsies!' When originally published, some stories spread over a couple months or so but reading them all together like this instead of three page doses gives a greater cohesiveness. The stories of them visiting a place resembling hell, getting in the middle of an alien conquest, not of our space surprisingly, or even time-hopping to grab Hitler for his crimes stick out the most but this is all good material.
At the price this volume is offered at is in the range of everyone. With it set in the future, Stronty has maintained its agelessness. If you read him when young, then it's great to relive his adventures again. If you're new to him, then you will quickly become a fan.
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