Johnny is still in a bit of a dark place, but Durham Red comes along and provides a bit of light (and sauce). But that doesn’t last very long, and soon Johnny’s life becomes even more turbulent. Not to mention terminal. Coupled with creator changes, both visible and behind the scene the series comes unstuck.
Strontium Dog : A Potted History
Part 3 of 5
By Luke Williams
There were little spots of levity in “Rage”, but let’s face it, Johnny had been changed forever. It would be silly for the strip to revert straight back to the stories that had preceded the Max Bubba storyline. SD has always been described as a space western and but “Incident on Mayjer Minor” wears it’s influences proudly and acts as a useful transitionary story. Johnny wanders onto a farm run by a mutie widow and her son, the Froggits.. The Froggits are being bullied into selling the farm to the local muscle, the Goobers. After begrudgingly being offered to stay at the farm before he moved on, Johnny reluctantly defends the homestead, warns the aggressors off. As planned, he leaves the farm and the planet. Thinking that they are now safe to forcibly take over the Froggits farm, the Goobers move in. But they’ve been a bit hasty.
Any road up. Johhny looks suitably clench jawed,, mean and distant all the way through the strip, a “High Plains Mutie” if you like,”. Downbeat, but a nice stand alone strip and acts as a bit of a palette cleanser from the intensity of “Rage”.
A three parter called “Warzone” was up next. Johhny teaming up with Middenface on a war torn world in a revenge mission on a former Kreeler. Clearly the creative team recognised that Johnny needed his buddies, and after all the darkness, perhaps it was time for him to lighten up a bit, and perhaps get a lady in. Enter Durham Red.
After crossing swords on a job, Red, a vampiric mutant approaches Johnny to team up on a high risk job. Kaiak freedom fighters have travelled in time and kidnapped President Ronald Reagan (this was 1987), and threaten to kill him and thus causing huge disruption to the time continuum and changing human history forever. Unless the humans occupying their home planet of Kaiak leave.
Agreeing to split the reward 50/50, Red and Johnny track Reagan to the planet and rescue the president. However, Johnny has some sympathy for the Kaiaks, seeing parallels in their plight with those of the mutants of Earth. On the run with a reluctant Red in tow., they keep Reagan safe fending off attacks from fellow Strontium Dogs, until the human have evacuated. There is not a lot of personal space on the run.
The strip becomes more whimsical with “The Royal Affair” where Johnny is hired to protect King Clarkie and his Bride to be, who as it turns out is a duck faced mutie called Vera Duckworth. Johnny acts as bodyguard to the would be happy couple and calls in a few favours from some mates for reinforcements including the ever poplar Middenface. Think of it as a retread of the abdication crisis of the 30s, set in the future, with muties, yet more paltry….Okay, never mind.
The establishment are not having any of it. Johnny sees it as an opportunity for improving mutant right, but some battles are just too bog to fight. Clarkie is forced to abdicate in favour of his brother and is sent into exile.
Then, then we have the first non Carlos artist in a long time on the strip and the first in the prog’ . “A Sorry Case” continues the move back to high comedy that the “Royal Affair” had begun. ‘ Sorry’ Dobbs attracts bad luck. A simple job so it seems Johnny needs to escort Dobbs off world, simple enough, but Dobbs attracts supernatural levels of bad luck. It’s a slight story, but nice and light considering the darkness to come. Colin MacNeil’s first weekly work on the strip, owes a lot to King Carlos, and he even replicates Carlo’s thick outline style, it isn’t as stylish as his later work, but serviceable enough, he produces truly great work on the strip just a few years later.
Next up is “The Rammy”. Similar to the “Big Bust of ’49” and “The Killing” there are lots of crooks all holed up in a coastal sanctuary on the planet Marbellas (inspired by the British criminal fraternity hiding out in Spain), secured with kickbacks to the government. Middenface and Johnny come up with a plan to attract them to an event away from safety where they can be apprehended. How? By putting on a fighting contest the Rammy of the title. Covering all angles, Middenface has entered Johnny and himself as well.
This is a nice little earner for the government, so they are upset that Johnny and Middenface have slaughtered the cash cow and put them on trial to punish them. J & M get away with it, but it’s not cheap.
Red returns in, “Stone Killers”, granite based lifeforms are targetting and killing Stronts, Johnny and Durham Red are tasked with finding out why. Tracking the the killers to the Granite Planet (clearly a lot of thought has gone into this).Putting two and two together, they decide there must be a traitor in the Doghouse. Using some interesting interrogation techniques, they discover that Middenface is the next target.
After rescuing a rather worse for wear Middenface and his buddies, they follow the trail to the father of the Stix brothers (who are legion, as we will see).
Carlos’s swansong on the strip in Prog 573 (at least until 2000, or “Judgement Day” in the 1990s) is also his plotting debut.”Incident on Zeta” has Johnny on his way to a card game on Vegas, but he’s waylaid by a female gang., soon dispatched.
It was also around this time that Wagner and Grants’ writing partnership ended, disagreements in the partnership had come to a head at the end of the Dredd epic “Oz” and whether to dispatch Chopper. Wikipedia has the strip “Stone Killers” on written solo by Grant, not sure about that, as it still feels a bit like Wagner. But I think it it pretty clear that Grant is writing solo by “The No Go Job”.
“No Go Job” seemingly was just another SD mission, escorting New church dignitary Brother Sagan to rescue a Bishop and assorted relics from a feud world. A planet where disagreements are settled by force of arms.
Bish’ and relics are recovered, Johnny and Middenface are the SD members of the party that survive. Sagan legs it, and he revealsthat the relics are actually the bones of Malak Brood – remember him from Part 2 folks?
This is the debut of Simon Harrison on the strip, as much of a shock to the system as the transition on “Nemesis the Warlock” from Bryan Talbot to John Hicklenton. According to editorial staff interviewed for “Thrillpower Overload,” the strip was falling in popularity and the editorial decision was to dispatch the former Johnny Kreelman. Around this time Tharg had “promised” the death of a major character. There was a stretch where it could have been one of four, Slaine, Johnny, Chopper or Dredd. But looking back, the foreshadowing in the sequel to “No Go Job” was less than subtle, they might as well have had it in neon lights on the moon.
So a decision was made over which Carlos left the strip and which Wagner later admitted was on the biggest mistakes of his career. “The No Go Job” had acted as the prologue to the biggest shake up in the strips history, fed by plot threads spun right back to the merger of “Starlord” with “2000AD”.
We are, of course, talking about “The Final Solution”.
Johnny and Middenface are still on “No Go” and looking for a way out. Hitching a ride back to “Smiley’s World”, where Wulf turned his toes up in time for a memorial service for Wulf. Sagan and his Lyran Sorceror sidekick resurrect Wulf, just to mess with Johnny’s head.
Wulf starts to give Johnny a bit of a kicking and returns to being wormfood, but Johnny is emotionally stung. In the meantime, one quick coup later Brother Sagan’s sets out his plan for the country. A return to a “Great Britain” and a permanent “Final Solution” for the mutant problem
Johnny and Middenface head back to the doghouse and want to have a “chat” with Sagan. Banned from returning to Earth they steal a shuttle and head to Milton Keynes,where they meet up with angsty were-albino Feral, who is in no way being set up to replace Johnny as the strip’s lead character.
After a minor disagreement, resolved physically the trio head off together to find out what the hell is going on. Johnny & Feral are captured and Sagan performs the big reveal, Mutants are being departed to a different dimension with no way back, no way unless the gateway is reopened with a human sacrifice.
You can see where this is going can’t you?
Sagan also explains why he has a big axe to grind with Johnny. It turns out that Nelson Bunker Kreelman, Johnny’s pa couldn’t keep it in his pants, the shagabout. He is Brother Sagan’s Dad too!
Transported to the other dimension Johnny tries to rally the deportees and work out a way of returning to their Earth. In the process Johnny loses his eyes when he tried to read the mind of a dark matter creature preying on the exiles. And then there is an extended pause.
For whatever reason, the strip suffers by not having a regular run and having frequent and sometimes extended breaks. It’s momentum is disrupted, and I remember thinking at the time that Johnny’s passing seemed inevitable and Tharg just seems to be prolonging the agony. Just get on with it.
The strip returns with Colin MacNeil at the helm, producing some beautiful work,and he remains for the rest of the strip
Eyeless, but with a plan, Johnny sacrifices himself to reopen the gate freeing the remaining (i.e. not sitting in the gut of a creature created by necromancy) mutants.
Middenface in the meantime has been busy, he’s gathered support and begun an insurrection, which ends with the doomed Doghouse crashing into Upminster and killing the entire New church led British Government
So, that’s that. Johnny’s dead and his remains are in another dimension,no Doghouse, and apparently no SD agency. Where do we go from here?
Well, if you are a fan of whiny albinos who need a manicurist, then you’ll love the next stretch.
In the meantime, let’s have a moment’s silence:
Collections. Where to get it :
Strontium Dog : S/D Agency Files 03 & 04
Strontium Dog : Outlaw
Best of 2000AD Monthly 96, 97, 112, 116, 117,
Classic 2000AD 10