Written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and, of course, illustrated by Carlos Ezquerra.
Have to be honest- I couldn’t remember much about the story contained in here. Had never revisited it since it first ran in the prog (Seriously: 1987!! Feel old yet…?) and the only memory it did evoke was that poor aul Wulf was currently rowing his way to the drinking halls of Valhalla, Johnny was now out on his own and Strontium Dog was going to take a bit of getting used to. Worse still, I was a little worried the reason I couldn’t remember much about this story was that, well… maybe it hadn’t been very good to begin with.
And of course, it turns out there’s nothing to worry about. Bitch is a great read and on top of that, successfully introduces a sexy, badass, perfectly capable female character into 2000AD’s canon. (I only make special mention of that because, certainly back in 1987, there weren’t many female characters in the comic’s history that managed to make a dent for all the right reasons. In layman’s terms- beyond Halo Jones, 2000AD was an all-out sausage-fest.)
Gather round, children: Bitch, based on a true story, tells us what happens when disgruntled alien terrorists from the 22nd century time-travel back to 1987, kidnap then-President of the United States Ronald Reagan, and demand all humans leave their planet or they’ll alter all of human history by vaporizing him. Mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha teams up with fellow mutant bounty hunter Durham Red, the Beee-yotch of the title, to track down Reagan, return him to 1987, restore our timeline and also, and more importantly, collect the colossal ten million credits in reward.
So, a couple of things: I was surprised to find Bitch ran for a sprawling 25 issues. That’s some Apocalypse War shit right there, yet it never feels like it lags at any point. If anything, the length gives the story enough room to explore all its various threads in a satisfying manner. The aliens’ motivation to kidnap Reagan turns out to be a somewhat justified one, and it’s a nice trick to have Johnny, no stranger to being marginalized due to his mutated nature, sympathizing with their plight.
But Durham Red herself is the draw here. She’s brash sexuality, hardened killer, head-wrecking opportunist and mistress of her own plans all at once. Simultaneously feeling the weight of her mutation (she’s a vampire) yet also revved-up and charged by it. And yet, at her core, she’s even more alone than Johnny. For all her flirting, it’s just a facade. Even her own ilk, the lowest tier of this society, fear and mistrust her. Seriously, I was totally unprepared for how great she was in this.
And Wagner and Grant are having some fun too: they put Johnny to the test in a way we haven’t seen before. All those years of macho galaxy-hopping and bounty-hunting with Wulf have taken their toll: Give him a weapon and a quarry and he can kick anyone’s ass but pair him up with a manipulative flirty woman and Johnny’s well outside his comfort zone. Watching him try to stick to the plan while Red embraces a somewhat looser – and certainly more mercenary – approach to her work is a joy.
Even Ronald Reagan’s handled well. Wagner and Grant keep him teetering on the right side of grating parody although looking back at footage of the man himself, I’m not sure their take is that far off from the real thing. I found myself laughing out loud at Ezquerra’s caricatures as well, some of which resemble nothing more than a dried raisin yet always stay impressively and hilariously recognizable.
And yeah, while we’ve mentioned the man: the other main star of the strip is Ezquerra’s artwork. Dude, it took me six fucking months to do an eight pager for Zarjaz once. Ol’ Carlos? He just rockets through twenty-five consecutive episodes like a champion, no big deal. As always, it’s a joy to peruse. You’re in the hands of a balls-out master now: Fantastic compositions, confident and exciting storytelling, the draughtmanship’s as perfect as ever and there’s an attention to detail that’s unmatched. Even the characters in the background get as much attention as anything around them. Anyway, I ended up loving this, as you can tell. A great bit of fun with some great artwork. Wagner, Grant and Ezquerra doing what they do best, basically. In fact, I liked it so much, I ended up sorta pissed off remembering that eventually, 2000AD decided poor ol’ Red should get transported 1000 years into the future and completely stripped of all the stuff that makes her great here. (Never cared for that take on her, sorry to say.)
Packaging is beautiful, the reprint quality’s pretty great. One or two pages a little muddy in my copy but nothing that’ll ruin your enjoyment. This is well worth your time and your money. Go fucking buy it.