Strontium Dog is one of those handfuls of precious early 2000AD creations, alongside characters such as Judge Dredd, Slaine and the ABC Warriors, that remains as iconic today as at its inception in the late 1970s.
In the near-ish future, mutants who are cast out and put to work as Search and Destroy agents (bounty hunters to you and us), foremost amongst them is the x-ray eyesight-empowered hitman Johnny Alpha. He is a super-cool combination of Sci Fi and Wild West bounty hunter, backed up by an equally cool hammer-wielding Viking sidekick, Wulf Sternhammer.
Outlaw is a 23-part story first published in 1984. This reviewer first encountered it in a two-parter compilation as a 14 year old. It blew him away then and, on re-reading it in his early forties, it blew him away all over again.
Long story short; Alpha is framed by the brilliantly sinister Stix Brothers for a cold-blooded mass shooting. With a bounty on his head, Alpha (and Sternhammer) are forced to flee the Search/Destroy Agency (the Doghouse) which they, and all other mutants, call home. But, with a bounty on his head, all of the other mutants are soon on Alpha’s trail, looking to collect that bounty.
The trail of carnage as they make their escape goes from the Doghouse to the rainforests of Antarctica, to a distant Scottish-accented space colony and all the way back to the Doghouse again. Along the way, Alpha collects allies in the misshapen forms of characters such as Vic Scampi, Evans the Fist, The Torso From Newcastle and long standing fan favourite Middenface McNulty. The story is sympathetic to its lightly but effectively drawn characters, even while maintaining a sense of the grit and cynicism of a Spaghetti Western and a sly sense of humour (with loads of blink and you miss them puns and one-liners).
Strontium Dog works well as little Spaghetti Western-y one-offs but here, in long from, it becomes something else. Each issue is packed with action and cliffhanger endings but also pack in glimpses at the wider world and expand the reader’s sense of the Strontium Dog universe. The unfolding plot hints at the Mutant War, fought between mutant-kind and the evil Nelson Bunker Kreelman – Johnny Alpha’s own father.
Carlos Ezquerra’s black and white art is packed with detail, and is well worth lingering over, but also lends fantastic pace to the storytelling as action flits cinematically from panel to panel.
This edition features original 2000AD Prog covers and even a Strontium Dog quiz. These are pretty minor additions that neither add to nor detract from the fact that this story, on its own, is a bona fide classic. Buy it.
STRONTIUM DOG: OUTLAW / AUTHOR: JOHN WAGNER / ARTIST: CARLOS EZQUERRA / PUBLISHER: 2000AD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW