I grew up, back in the 80’s, reading 2000AD. Dredd, Rogue Trooper, Holo Jones, Bad Company, The A.B.C. Warriors, The VC’s, Nemesis the Warlock and all the rest informed my humour, my writing and my love of what sci-fi at its best can be. Stories about the human condition told through the fantastic, the futuristic and on occasion the truly bizarre. Future shocks taught me of the art of the short story, while the others taught me the scope of the epic. I grew up with 2000AD, but 2000AD grew up with me at the same time, as I have written about before in an earlier blog post celebrating its 2000th issue last year. As I wrote then:
Johnny Alpha, Strontium Dogs main character’s back story was developed into an epic that looked at racism and fascists through the lens of mutants and the Keelers. Doing that most subversive of things, educating young minds while entertaining them. Much of my own abhorrence of racism and the far right I can trace back to reading 2000AD and the long-running ‘Portrait of a Mutant’ Not bad for a strip that started bout as a bounty hunter western set in space.
Which brings me to the point of this particular post, for while I love Dredd and 2000AD with a passion, it was ‘Strontium Dog‘ that brought me to the party in the first place. Johnny Alpha and Wulf were the characters that kept me reading ‘Starlord‘ the comic in which they were the mainstays past the first issue. I had flirted with other comics before, Battle, Eagle, Marvel, DC and others, but Starlord stuck with me, and I stuck with it, because of Strontium Dog.
John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra created in the stories of Johnny and Wulf a western in space. This is back before ‘Firefly’ had even crossed the mind of a young Josh Weldon. It was a diamond of an idea, mutant bounty hunters forced into a life on the fringe, hated by the society they served, derided by the ‘norms’. They could rock up at some settlement beset by outlaws and take the bad guys out, only to be run off afterwards as ‘mutie scum’. Yet somehow Johnny Alpha strove to be above the hand that was dealt him.
‘Portrait of a Mutant’ remains one of the finest pieces of storytelling in any medium, as I alluded to in the passage above. It taught me more than any history lesson could about the rise of fascism and the lure it has in creating scapegoats for all the problems people face. Lessons as valuable today in a world that seems to be edging towards the right of the political spectrum more than at any time since the 1930’s. Yet the full sweep of the Strontium Dog stories are all filled with the same humour, humanity and wonder.
Johnny Alpha remains my hero because I can relate to him more than Dredd. While I love Dredd’s world and the stories within it, ‘Old Stoneface’ himself is the establishment figure, an archetype fascist in some regards. While Dredd himself is a benevolent dictator, treating all equally for his vision of the greater good as represented by ‘The law’, he walks a hard line all the same, and his society is oppressive in the extreme, and his fellow Judges are often far from benevolent. Alpha, on the other hand, is not the establishment figure, but a man trying to make his way in the universe. Trying to do what he deems to be right, look out for the little guy, and push back against the man. As a character, he is more directly relatable than old Joe. If I wanted to emulate anyone growing up, it was Johnny. Which is why I was utterly thrilled to find out the guys who made Judge Minty (also well worth a watch) had made a Strontium Dog film.
Stephen Green and Steven Sterlacchini have managed, just as they did with Judge Minty, to take the vision of the comics and bring them to the screen. It holds true to all the little details as well, the Doghouse and the SD agents that fans will recognise. Durham Red and her little pointy teeth, Mc Nulty and his bumps, even Harvey the odious one behind his desk. The feel of the original comics is there in the settings and the western vista’s, the villain’s arrogant excesses, the beggar be the side of the road. All through it feels like the comics and that is part of the joy, you can see and feel it is made by fans.
It is, therefore, an utter joy, which is the only reason for this post if I am honest because sometimes you just need to share the awesome. My hat goes off to them both Stevens and everyone else involved…
Even if you have never heard of the doghouse, the search and destroy agency and old Johnny eyes… This is a twenty-minute wonder everyone should see, and Hollywood could learn a lot from…
Carlos Ezquerra Died today at the age of 70, As artist and co-creator of Strontium Dog his creations and art have been a huge influence on my life. May he rest in peace, and know that he, like his art will live on in the hearts of his fans around the world