Having stretched the definition of the term “potted history” to breaking point, Luke presents the final installment. Wagner & Ezquerra return to the strip they created, Luke whines about the whole resurrection thing and takes a brief look at some of the SD related tat available.
Strontium Dog : A Potted History
Part 5 of 5
“Alpha! It Can’t Be!” : Return & Resurrection
Oh but it was. Lots had happened behind the scenes in the Nerve Centre since Johnny’s sacrifice. Then owners Egmont were busy hawking their IP to all and sundry for a pittance, in the hope that there would be a huge return on whatever TV or film adaptation took flight. “Thrillpower Overload” goes into a bit more detail, but in summary, it left people with a bad taste in their mouth.
Either way, each strip needed to be packaged for sale and development. Story and character “bibles” were created. Johnny Alpha was very dead at the time, but he was identified as a character that had potential for development and turning into a live action film / TV thing, ‘cos , that’s a great way to bring a new audience to comics and comic characters ( I have an opinion on this, click here to read more). Thankfully, Egmont turned to Wagner and Ezquerra to develop the “bible” for SD.
The television / film version of “Strontium Dog” got nowhere, but Wagner was inspired by the work he had done on the bible. He felt that there were more Johnny Alpha stories to be told. So, in Prog 2000 (the one to commemorate the new millenium and 2000AD actually reaching the year 2000), the first strip with Johnny as a lead in almost 10 years debuted.
The “Kreeler Consiparcy” is based on Wagner’s TV pilot treatment. It’s a bit of an anomaly, it doesn’t quite fit into continuity and it has it’s own little idiosyncrasies, such as Milton, a computer carried on Johnny’s wrist who acts as his companion and lends a more sci fi edge. The narration is a bit odd too, it’s written as if were a historical work in a similar way to which Nikolai Dante stories are introduced. The strip develops plotlines and the framing sequence from “Portrait of a Mutant”, resurrecting the late Nelson Bunker Kreelman. Kreelman is the president of Earth, set into stasis and exiled to the far reaches of the galaxy.In the meantime loyalist sympathisers set about rescuing him, but don’t figure on Johnny Alpha – (spoilers) Kreelman’s son, getting involved.
Alternating between hard edged action and occasional farce and or whimsy the stories following this relaunch were more in keeping with what went before. Elements such as the flashback / author narration / excerpts and quotes from historical references are less prominent, Milton is forgotten and all are set prior to “The Final Solution”. Wagner and Ezquerra hopping back and forth along Johnny’s career with a series of untold tales. Johnny was definitely still dead.
Prog 2001s “A Sad Case ” reintroduced Kid Knee, who had met his maker (not John and Carlos, this isn’t a Grant Morrison comic) back in Prog 233. “Roadhouse” from 1300-1307 is notable for being the only black and white SD post 2000 (along with the “what if?” one off speculating what had happened if Wulf had not died, written by Alan Grant). Set early on in the the Johnny & Wulf partnership “Roadhouse” reads a little like a reboot of the classic “Journey Into Hell” with the titular premises being an inescapable maze of interdimensional doorways to bizarre other universes, created on the whim of a mad artist.
The Tax Dodge (1350-1358)with a credit to James Norton for inspiration, finds Johnny pursued by the tax man, Wagner takes an opportunity to bring in elements of farce alongside the hard edged stuff as Johnny is pursued for unpaid taxes whilst he and Wulf pursue the “Unrighteous Brothers”.
In the “Headly Foot Job” Wagner and Ezquerra ramps up the farce as J & W rescue a rotten Strontium Dog from his captors, not out of kindness, but for the bounty on his head. This sounds like business as usual, but Wagner & Ezquerra brought a darker edge to the strip on their return.
In “Traitor to his Kind” (progs 1406-1415) mutant rebels have kidnapped King Clarkie. Fearing a second civil war, elements of the British Government hire Johnny to rescue the King and prevent a slaughter and further subjugation of the mutant population. A conflicted Johnny agrees to help, becoming a sacrificial lamb, destroying his reputation, sparing mutant kind further suffering but maintaining the status quo. Alongside the reputational damage, there are family revelations for Johnny as another half sibling pops out of the woodwork. That Nelson eh?
Breaking up the bleakness is “A Shaggy Dog” story 2006-1472 story sees Johnny teaming up with yet another member of the Fuzz family on a wild goose chase to all intents and purposes, and was more in keeping with the whimsy and farce of the earlier strips.
The series then takes one of it’s darker turns. Wagner and Ezquerra, helped out on art by Carlos’s son Hector, returns to the original mutant rebellion in “Blood Moon” prog 2009, 1617-1628. Set early in Johnny’s career, Johnny takes the bounty on a wartime mutant leader, known as William Blood Moon.
Known for his brutal methods, Moon still commands a loyal following and is regarded as a hero in mutant society. Johnny has a history with him, and the job is personal. The story is bleak and the violence begins to ramp up whilst at the same time it deals with fanaticism, loyalty, betrayal and how far you would go for for what you believe in. It was a harbinger for the direction of the strip.
Prog’s 1651-1660, in the “The Mork Whisperer” Alpha is drawn into a complicated family dispute when he is hired by an immensely wealthy man to search for his son, seemingly “abducted” by his mother. The boy and his brother have talents that the father had not revealed, Johnny is double crossed, but on the plus side gets it on with the ex wife.
It was around this point that Wagner (possibly controversially, certainly as far as this Squaxx is concerned) clearly thought “Hang on, I really like Johnny Alpha, instead of doing stories set in the past, why don’t I just bring him back to life?” Developing the strip rather than recreating past glories.
In the “Life & Death of Johnny Alpha” prog 1689 -1699 is set 7 years after the end of “The Final Solution”. Had Alpha actually died? Precious Matson, a reporter investigates the events of the “Final Solution”. Enlisting an alcoholic, chronically insecure and morbidly depressed Middenface, Precious sets out to find out what really happened to Johnny Alpha.
Together they piece together the events of Sagan’s clearances. Johnny’s body wasn’t incincerated, and was brought back to Earth – by Feral Jackson.
Not one of the more popular Strontium Dogs, Feral was thought to be dead, but Precious and Middenface track him to the planet Garn, imprisoned for inadvertently though carelessly blowing up one of their starships. Sentenced to death by immolation, he is force fed as it gives the fire a bit more oomph. With the promise of escape Feral reveals all.
Feral had got Johnny’s body to the planet Zen. The Stone Wizards of Zen have the power to resurrect, but Feral wasn’t willing to pay the price of resurrecting his late mentor, and leaves the body on the planet.
Wagner portrays as Feral as unreliable, truculent, selfish and arrogant., whilst Carlos draws him to look like James May after too eating too many pies.
Wagner dismisses Peter Hogan’s development of Feral thusly :
Which you have to admit is quite funny. But I’m not sure Mr. Hogan would agree.
Feral’s end is not a pleasant one. It really looks like Wagner & Ezquerra had it in for him.
Middenface and Precious head to Zen, but the ever shifting geography of the planet makes it difficult to track Johnny’s body. When they do find it, they discover he’s not actually dead – just in some sort of coma. Middenface and Precious successfully appeal to the stone wizards to resurrect their friend. Thus ends chapter 1.
In chapter 2 (progs 1764-1771), successfully brought back to life, Johnny has a short stop off for respite and returns to SD agency at the new Doghouse, but things aren’t quite back to normal.
Johnny is targeted by a members of a mysterious alien race with the ability to regenerate, wearing SD badges known as “Ikans”. Returning to the Doghouse, Johnny tries to discover who sicced them on him. To make matters worse, he brought back something from his “death” and begins to hear voices, plus he gets wind of “The Project” an initiative to sterilise the mutant population with the backing of the British establishment.
Johnny gathers rallies the ghettos and the second mutant war begins. In the meantime the government sets up an enquiry headed, (with typical Wagner dryness) by Justice Longgrass. Enraged, affected by the entity that resides in his head, the trauma of being resurrected, he’s become more ruthless, more callous, in the fight to save his people.
The mutants seem to be assured victory until the Brit’s bring over the Norm Brotherhood from the USA, Wagner hill billy baddies in the grand tradition.
Johnny and co get reinforced by the Stront’s from the Doghouse to see them off, but the tide turns with the reintroduction of the seemingly indestructible Ikans, their ability to regenerate after being blown to pieces is enough to give doubt to the sturdiest of hearts. Their advantage lost, the mutants sue for peace, but not before Johnny sees to the architect of the sterilisation project, but seemingly perishes in the process.
But not, Johnny had no carked it again. In the “Stix Fix” we find that he was rescued imprisoned by the government and brought back to health. They also have a job for him.
It seems that the NKD, a belligerent far eastern nation has been kidnapped. The country has blamed and threatened to attack Earthcom if the leader is not returned. Johnny is tasked with rescuing the NKD leader, and as a reward, he and the other mutant leaders, Kid Knee, Middenface McNulty and Evans The Fist will be released.
With a general from the NKD in tow, Johnny identifies the kidnappers as members of the Stix clan.
Johnny hands over the ransom to release the NKD leader, but the Stix get an unexpected bonus. Johnny, heads for the mutant free state of Freedonia and a simple life.
But obviously that wasn’t going to happen. In “Repo Men” his old mates, Evans, Middenface, Kid, “Topsy” Turvey and Shaggy turn up to disturb his bucolic idyll with a job offer.
Following the war, the SD agency was disbanded, and these old Dogs are at a loose end. They have come up with a scheme to set themselves up for life, return the astral settlement known as “The Rock” to its true owners. The direct approach won’t work, so Johnny comes up with a scheme to involve the Galanthans, who possess the largest starfleet in the Galaxy and to trick them into doing the job for them. However, they hadn’t taken into account Shaggy’s inability to keep it in his pants.
This brings us right up to date, in “The Son” the Galactic Crime Commission has reformed the Search Destroy Agency. All the old Stronts sign up, and are paired off with new recruits.
Johnny teams up with the produce of Wulf’s loins, Kenton. Clearly reluctant to have the death of his friend’s son on his conscience to add to his father, Johnny is not a patient or tolerant teacher.
Johnny Vs. Joe : Crossovers with Old Stoney Face (Reprise)
In Prog’ 2000 (the correctly numbered one, not the one published for the millenium), creators, John Wagner and Ezquerra team Dredd and Alpha up again. Alpha alerts Dredd of the bounty on Joe’s head. It turns out that Judge Cal’s clone descendants wanted Dredd, dead, for what he did to their “father”. With an appearance by the seemingly omnipresent Stix, this is a nice little celebration of two classic characters.
The continuity for these crossovers has always seemed to be a bit fast and loose. There does seem to be a desire from Tharg to set this continuity in a JD story in Meg’ 381 a mutant hating Brit Cit’ juve visiting MC1 gets kidnapped by MC1 muties. Known only as “Bunky” he is successfully rescued by Justice Department and his identity is revealed at the end of the strip:
It seems Rebellion is intent on tying the two strips continuities together. A JD/SD universe. Hmmmmm.
Annuals and Specials
I haven’t covered the annuals, there are some great little shorts of particualr note are the Beast of Milton Keynes in the 1986 Annual, and “The Town Who Died Of Shame” in the 1988 Sci Fi Special
There is loads of cool stuff out there that is Stronty related. In the eighties Citadel created lead figures of Johnny, Wulf and the Gronk – these go for a few quid now (with thanks to whomever updates the Wikipedia page for the photos)
3A developed a Johnny Alpha figure. Such a shame this didn’t get any further than prototype (and that my photographic skills aren’t up to much)
But 3A did get as far as a Gronk, or you could always knit your own
Still to be found on various auctions sites, are the RE:Action figures of Johnny Alpha and Durham Red
Or is you want something a bit smaller, there are the Heroclix figures:
There are scores of T shirts, hoodies mugs etc’ . I quite like this T short design, although my brother always thought it looked like the face of a yellow badger :
There are some rather cool badges available. Either a small, yet tasteful funky enamel one or a larger plastic example.
If you have a Commodore 64 of ZX Spectrum, you could always plays as Johnny :
I have both systems, but never played either. But from what I understand, I’m not missing much.
Film / TV / Audio
Audio Dramas by Big Finish and Starring Simon Pegg
“Down To Earth”
“Fire From Heaven”
The fantastic fan film : “Search / Destroy” : http://strontiumdogfanfilm.com/
“Bad Timing” : Rebecca Levene
“Prophet Margin” : Simon Spurrier
“Ruthless” : Jonathan Clements
“Day of the Dogs” : Andrew Cartmel
“A Fistful of Strontium” : Jaspre Bark and Steve Lyons
“Among The Living” : Matthew Smith (E Novella)
Personally, I don’t think they should have resurrected Johnny. The “Final Solution” was a great ending to the series and a fitting way for the character to go out. The resurrection diminishes that, but not perhaps as much as the meandering jumbled mess that “Strontium Dogs” became. I’ve got something more to say on the subject of when series should end here.
Wagner and Ezquerra seems to have more of an affinity and more empathy with Johnny than their more well known creation. Carlos’s art is always superb, he conveys action better than anyone else, but his page compositions on the early strips, particularly “Journey Into Hell”. Johnny’s outfit is constantly evolving, but always recognisable, although I understand some artists have a theory that Carlos designed the helmet in such a way, and made it so complicated that only he could draw it.
There has been a definite tonal shift in the series. Less western in space, more sci fi and far grittier and violent since the resurrection, though it has maintained some of the levity. Johnny has become a far more troubled character.
The creative team seem to be undoing some significant plot developments. The recent introduction of Wulf’s son Kenton seems to be attempt to undo Wulf’s death, in much the same way as he did with Judge Giant, Fink Angel, Kid Knee etc etc
Where to get it
The Kreeler Conspiracy. Includes : “The Kreeler Conspiracy”, “The Sad Case”, “Road House”, “The Tax Dodge”, “The Headly Foot Job”
Traitor to His Kind. Includes :”Traitor To His Kind”,”A Shaggy Dog Story”,”The Glum Affair”
Blood Moon. Includes :“Blood Moon”, “The Mork Whisperer”
The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha. Includes :”The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha”, “The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha: The Project”,”What If…? Max Bubba Hadn’t Killed Wulf,”
The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha: Dogs of War. Includes :“The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha: Mutant Spring”, “The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha: Dogs of War”
Repo Men. Includes :”The Stix Fix”, “Repo Men”
2000AD Ultimate Collection issue 11 : Includes : “Kreeler Conspiracy”, “Blood Moon”, “The Headley Foot Job”
2000AD Ultimate Collection issue 15 : Includes : “The Sad Case” , “Traitor To His Kind”, “Shaggy Dog Story”, “The Glum Affair”, “The Mork Whisperer”