While Johnny was on his temporary dirt nap, there were quite a few attempts at spin offs, pre-death cross overs and the focus shifted to supporting characters in a vain attempt to replace our hero. There is a lot to cover, and some of it is…….. iffy. Basically, Luke’s looking forward to Wagner getting back on board full time in the final installment
Strontium Dog : A Potted History
Part 4 of 5.
So that’s the end of Johnny then.
What to do after that?? Surely that’s the end of the strip, yeah? Main charactoer shuffeled off this mortal coil, artist and writers most closely associated with said charcater sodded off,. That’s the end right?
Ah,no. Grant (for ’twas he) left everything in ruins (not to say it was a bad story though). And very definitely at a full stop. Fleetway / Tharg / Egmont etc decided “no”, Says Tharg “we can milk this, Droid Grant built up the runty teenage albino, he’ll be a good hero” But Tharg you shriek – there is no doghouse, no SD agency what shall we do. Ah we’ll give it to one of our one bucks, he grew up on the comic, let him sort it out.
It comes to something that even the logo on the follow up series was so “meh”. Take a look.
Compare with the genius of Jan Shepherd:
The revised one was marginally better, but still didn’t have that air of menace the original one brought possessed.
Out goes Alan Grant, in comes young gun, Garth Ennis. Adding an “S” to the title apparently signalled a new direction. Feral became the focus of the series, as it became darker and grittier twist Ennis scripting a thinly veiled allegory of the troubles in Northern Ireland.
In “Monsters” there has been a governmental backlash against muties since the destruction of Upminster. Mutant clearances have recommenced, the SD agency is no more, and Strontium Dogs are fugitives throughout the galaxy, pursued by the new hardline British Government. Feral, still reeling from the events in “The Final Solution” makes it to Parnell’s World, metaphorically crawls into a gutter, and that’s where we join him. Frankly, considering he only knew Johnny for a bit, he’s pining quite a bit
Beautiful art by Steve Pugh, Ennis is never subtle, but he does action well and it’s a good story, but quite bleak. Feral has his own troubles, he is afraid his “warps”, where he transforms into a multi limbed, multi fanged, multi taloned beast may become permanent (indeed, he changes colour and shape between each series, although that maybe a continuity issue )It’s also notable for being drawn on pages that didn’t match the size of the prog’ the infamous “SD” running vertically on the edge of each page. Pulling himself together Feral fights back against the local garrison, and gets dragged into a mutant insurrection on the planet. The muties win, but not without cost.
Good stuff , but didn’t make me like Feral anymore. In “Thrillpower Overload”, Ennis himself is quoted as saying that he felt that feral wasn’t as an interesting character as Johnny.
“Return of the Gronk” and its epilogue “How The Gronk Got’s His Heartses” are far lighter in tone. Nigel Dobbyn takes over on art, and although he may not be good great for grittier stories, he draws great aliens and a particularly excellent Gronk. Surviving the destruction of the Doghouse, the Gronk slips into a coma on receiving the news of Johnny’s death. He recovers, but he is drastically changed, becomes Chuck Norris Gronk.
In the meantime the enterprising, but skint Professors X & Z are chasing the bounties that are on the heads of fugitive Stronts. They create the “Gronkinator” an armed to the teeth, homicidal, robotic Gronk to scalp some muties.
Gronk, clearly oblivious, heads off to find out what happened to Johnny and revels in his new found courage and daring :
Gronk eventually meets up with a Feral, who is in his cups following the events of “Monsters”. Gronk sobers Feral up in time for the arrival of the killing machine that is Gronkinator. Violent and but tongue in cheek, this is Ennis’s bets work on the strip.
In the finale of the Ennis trilogy “The Darkest Star”, Feral and Gronk want revenge for the death of Alpha. Coincidentally, and it must be said rather helpfully, the very scumbags who contributed to Johnny’s death, the Lyran sorcerors (remember them from “The Moses Incident” and “The Final Solution”?) have a plan to take over the galaxy. To do so, they need to speak to Charn -El, the sorceror who helped out Brother Sagan inwith his plan to find a “Final Solution” to the mutant problem. Trouble is, he’s dead. Luckily, it turns out Charn-El is Feral’s Dad (in all fairness it wasn’t a bad explanation), and that familial connection is the key to raising the late Lyran from the afterlife. The Gronk mounts a rescue mission, making his way through the “mines” where the Lyran’s put the souls of their victims. Guess who shows up?
This isn’t the last appearance Johnny makes from beyond the grave.
On a happier note, Gronk’s rescue mission succeeds:
Aaaaaaand you can guess how that turns out…
After “The Darkest Star” Ennis leaves – possibly attracted by more money stateside. Peter Hogan taps in. The Gronk and Feral are now partners, and Feral is still having an identity crisis. Whilst shipwrecked on the planet Hirfu they bump into a Stront’, Bullmoose Saxon
Bullmoose is working for the recently reestablished S/D Agency based on Ganymede. Curiosity piqued, Feral & The Gronk, tag along for Bullmoose’s next target who just so happens to be pursued by Durham Red. Arguing over who gets the fugitive, Feral transforms into his were state, seemingly permanently. In amongst all this kerfuffle our heroes are interrupted by the “Walking Lady”, a character created by Hogan and John Ridgway in a Stron’ strip in a Sci Fi special. “The Walking Lady” who helpfully introduces herself decides that the party need some spiritual guidance.
The Walking lady is here to be all mysterious, and presumably to add some gravitas, spirituality and resolve Feral’s quest for identity. Ladies and gentleman, we have jumped the shark. And we leave it on that cliff hanger.
After a short break, back we come back to find that Dobbyn has gone (sadly) and have Mark Harrison is at the drawing board (or Mac more likely). Bullmoose, Red and Gronk head to Ganymede to check in. Gronk and Bullmoose are then going to shoot off to find “Kings blood” to cure Feral, who has now gone into hibernatitive (I’m sure that’s a word) cocoon state.
Red gets the first of many a makeovers and quits the agency
It seem Red has her own problems, such as being pursued following her killing of the Gothlord in “Island Of The Damned”, so that’s the end of her in “Strontium Dogs”. But more on her later.
Bullmoose and Gronk head for Hsin, a planet in constant war with itself in pursuit of a plant called Kings Blood. They find Middenface who has been keeping his hand in, in the fighting game. The trio find the “Kings Blood” and head back to Hirfu to cure what ails Feral, or “Fear -All” as he has been christened by the Walking Lady.
It’s around now that things are starting to go a bit wrong behind the scenes. According to “Thrillpower Overload” then Tharg David Bishop (also TPO scribe) had lost patience with the strip. This last “Strontium Dogs” strip “Hate & War”was heavily rewritten by Bish-Op much to the chagriin of Peter Hogan, hence the script credit of “Alan Smithee”, a traditional pseudonym amongst screenwriters who want to distance themselves from their work that had been radically changed by others.
Frankly, it needed to be put out of its misery. Not even the reappearance of Middenface could save this drek. The strip loses direction and like “The Final Solution” before it manages to lose momentum due to frequent and lengthy breaks. in the strip. Mark Harrison leaves the strip and after a brief reappearance by Simon Harrison, Trevor Hairsine arrives to switch the lights off and lock up.
The appearance of the “Walking Lady” and the faux spirituality tosh that she brings with her killed this stone dead. Hogan isn’t a bad writer, but god this was boring. Hairsine expressed his feelings on the page, Bishop is clearly past caring :
and possibly my favourite :
This was the punchline:
Seriously, WTF? There were some other unresolved plot points (Middenface’s destiny as a king for example) but I didn’t care. Thankfully, the series ends no more than 2 pages later. But that wasn’t the end of mutant bounty hunter related adventures. Oh no.
Red had been introduced in the classic SD strip “Bitch” as a supporting character and foil. To be fair, she probably deserves her own potted history.
Clearly editorial think she legs (not to mention other assets). She’s a vampire, she’s gorgeous, and she carries guns. Proper bad girl stuff when that was all the rage in the nineties. But it doesn’t seem that anyone really knows what to do with her. And as we will see, she begins to rival “Rogue Trooper” for complex continuity.
Her first solo strip “Island Of The Damned” is an attempt to give her a bit more depth. Drawn by Carlos, written by Alan Grant and set just after the demise of the Doghouse, Red is out for revenge on drug dealers after her sister dies following a drugs overdose. It’s okay, but it doesn’t exatcly set the world alight.It’s a bit ponderous and tries to be a bit deep and meaningful in places and portrays Red as quite troubled and insecure, not the confident Stront’ we know her as.
Peter Hogan reintroduces Red in “Strontium Dogs”, just after the reestablishment of the S/D Agency, she briefly meets Feral and the Gronk, before spinning off into her own series.
Red gets a make over courtesy of Mark Harrison – ramping up the bad girl look.
Hogan then uses the “Island Of The Damned” strip as a spring board for plotlines involving other gothlords seeking revenge and a “blood debt”. Teaming up with Frinton “cannon fodder” Fuzz, this storyline comes to an abrupt ending when Red confronts her pursuers in a hunting competition against 10 hunters, including a weirdly dialogued branch of the Stix clan (seriously, they don’t sound anything like the others). Another casualty of the Bishop era, Hogan’s last strip is again credited to Alan Smithee. Dan Abnett writes the epilogue, tying off plotlines and clearing the decks for some big changes.
Abnett takes the reigns full time, Mark Harrison gamely hanging on for the ride. Red pulls a Buck Rogers and sleeps for 1200 years, Abnett propelling her far away from the mess that Strontium Dogs has become.
By this time mutants and humans are living together in an uneasy peace,but a militant mutant faction await the return of “Saint Scarlet” who is seen as the mutant saviour.
Saint Scarlet is of course, Red. What follows are two storylines where Red accidentally causes the annihilation of the “human” race. The second is where she saves the survivors of the human race and redeems herself. It’s good hard edged sci fi. But this isn’t what I would have expected from a red headed scantily clad foxy mutant bounty hunter. It’s moved so far away from its roots that it’s a different strip. Abnett could have told this with a brand new character and it would probably have worked better.
Things get even more confusing when the “Judge Dredd Megazine” runs a series of one offs called “The Scarlet Apocrypha”. These are “fictional” tales of Durham Red in alternate realities and different eras. They ran between the two Abnett /Harrison strips of “Vermin Stars” and the “Empty Suns” These are fun one offs with great art from John M Burns, Steve Yeowell, Frazer Irving, Mark Harrison (getting all meta in his episode), Enric Romero
Carlos Ezquerra. A crossover with “Fiends Of The Eastern Front” (not quite sure how you can top that). They are a candidate for collection, but it might confuse readers with the imminent relaunch of the character.
The last series to be published (there was a one off in the 40th anniversary prog’) was written and drawn by the team of Grant and Ezquerra. The duo go back to Red’s first case “The Nobody Wants This Job, Job”. Reluctantly reaming up with fellow newbie Stront’ Jones The Voice, Red hunts Avi Reebok, a guy who has a whole planet on his side. It goes as well as you would expect. Not a classic, but fun, and I found it more enjoyable that “Island Of The Damned”.
Good luck to Alec Worley & Ben Willsher on the revamped (guffaw) Red. And then can we stop messing about with her. Please.
Middenface’s debut solo strip appeared in the first volume of “Judge Dredd Megazine” “Wan Man And His Dug” scripted by Alan Grant & Tony Luke and drawn by John McCrea. The strip got its pass into the “Meg'” by sending Middenface to the early 22nd century Mega City 1 to recover his Granny’s birthday present, stolen by a mutant gang. Along the way he meets Max Normal and creates havoc. Anarchic in comparison with the regular strip, John McCrea draws like Leo Baxendale on speed (this is a good thing).
The “Young Middenface” strips act as an unofficial prequel to the classic “Portait of A Mutant”. We meet an adolescent Middenface as he gets into trouble with local gangs and the law, before gravitating toward the mutant resistance
All written by Alan Grant , the early strip were drawn beautifully by Patrick Goddard and Dylan Teague, moving onto the great John Ridgway
and finally onto Shaun Thomas (whatever happened to him?) of the school of dark and moody (aka not sure what is actually going on).
As Middenface ages, Scotland becomes increasingly oppressive and anti Mutant, leading building to the point where Middenface will lead the Scottish Mutant Army. There is the odd joke about SD alumni too :
I’m not aware of any of these being collected, and considering some of the other stuff they have reprinted, I’m surprised they haven’t collected it at least as a floppy for the Meg’. It’s great stuff.
Tales From The Doghouse
Toward the end of the first run of “Strontium Dog”, Tharg saw an opportunity to run short strips introducing other SD agents. The first few were written by Grant (and maybe Wagner?) drawn by MacNeil. These were collected a few years ago in a Meg floppy.
We meet “Back to Front Jones”
“Sting” Ray, “Birdy” Lilley, “Chameleon” Finegan, “Spud” O’Riley,and the only one who had more than one strip “Maeve The Many Armed”, who has a little cameo in “Return Of The Gronk”.
After Grant and MacNeil leave, Nicholas Barber, Hilary Robinson and the underrated Simon Jacob contribute. Great little shorts, with conceivably endless scope. But obviousl not popular enough.
Johnny Vs. Joe : Crossovers with Old Stoney Face
Johnny, post mortem (publication anyway), has met up with JD twice, and once since his resurrection.
First time was in the Judge Dredd Annual 1991, the last of the hardback era. Johnny and Wulf pursue a bounty back to MC1. Johnny being a mutie, and bounty hunting not being legal in MC1, they cross swords with Joe and his colleagues.
Dredd comes out on top, but Johnny escapes.
Pursued across the Big Meg’ Johnny, Wulf and captive are cornered in anoffice, but ingeniously use the services of a lawyer escape the clutches of Justice Department. This completely rocks. Short, but sweet. Wagner and MacNeil are a dream team.
The much maligned Garth Ennis (though allegedly John Wagner co plotted) mega epic running in 2000AD and the Meg’ included a rematch between Joe and Johnny.
The Necromancer Sabbat escapes to the 22nd century and begins his assault on the Earth using a vast zombie army. The series is infamous for seeing the demise of Mega City 2 and a slew of other MC cities. Alpha is sent into the past in hot pursuit. Arriving in Hondo, he bumps into Dredd’s old adversary Judge Inspector Sadu
and confronts Dredd.
And that ends pretty much the same way as the first fight. Johnny joins a JD led team of world judges (you know, from those cities that haven’t been destroyed in nuclear fire) on a suicide mission to stop Sabbat.
And I guess we all know where that ends up. I think “Judgement Day” gets an unnecessarily hard time, there are cringey moments, and it crudely tries to outdo “Necropolis” and “Apocalypse War” in the body count stakes. But it’s a good romp, and besides there is this :
That’s not the last time we see the two icons of British comics on the same page. But there is the small matter of the resurrection of the former John Kreelman to deal with first.
Where to get it (this is going to get messy, not much of this has been collected):
- “Monsters” : Meg’ Floppy 295
- “Return Of The Gronk” : Meg’ Floppy 305
- “The Darkest Star” : Meg’ Floppy 320
- “Crossroads” Progs : 897–899, Meg’ Floppy 320
- “Alphabet Man” Progs’ 937–939
- “High Moon” Prog’ 940–947
- “The Mutant Sleeps Tonight” Prog’ 957
- “Hate & War” Progs #993–999
- “Island Of The Damned” :Meg floppy 319
- “The Scarlet Cantos” trade paperback
- “The Vermin Stars” trade paperback
- “The Empty Suns” trade paperback
- “The Nobody Else Wants This Job, Job” Progs
Middenface McNulty / Young Middenface
- “Wun Man & His Dug” Meg’ Volume 1 :15 -20
- “Grannibal!” Meg’ 3.76
- “Tambo Shanter” Meg’ 4.11
- “A PArcel Of Rogues” Meg’ 4.16-4.18
- “Mutopia” Meg’ 205-207
- “Brigadoom!” Meg’ 218-220
- “Killoden” Meg’ 224-229
- “A Scottish Sojer” Meg’ 240-243
Tales From The Doghouse : Meg floppy : 345
- “Top Dogs” :JD Mega Collection 37, Best Of 2000AD Special 1999
- “Judgement Day” : JD Mega Collection 37, Various “Judgement Day” tpbs