Review: Strontium Dog - The Life and Death of Johnny Alpha / Author: John Wagner / Art: Carlos Ezquerra / Publisher: 2000AD / Release Date: Out Now
One of the things that I love about 2000AD is the sense that many of the stories build a sort of shared universe. Certainly the many Judge Dredd spin-offs all seem to build and (mostly) improve on the sense of a big world filled with big and scary things. Despite the larger than life setting, a gritty realism pervades the comic book. This is because in 2000AD stories, the heroes can die, and when they do, it’s unlikely you’ll see them again. Unlike Marvel and DC comics, the death of a main character is a big thing. At least it was.
Strontium Dog is part of this shared world, and one of the key moments in 2000AD’s history was the decision to kill off the Strontium Dog himself, Johnny Alpha in the classic tale, The Final Solution. However, Alpha’s creator, John Wagner, has never been happy with this particular story (he didn’t write it). The death of poor Johnny was a key moment in the history of the series, and lead to some great stories featuring other characters connected to Alpha’s life. Wagner has ignored much of this (claiming that the stories were told by an unreliable narrator), and by doing so, lessens the entire series. He treats characters he didn’t create personally very poorly, and the entire tale smacks of toys being thrown so far out of the pram that they go into orbit.
On the other hand, this is Wagner (working with brilliant artist Carlos Ezquerra) on top form. It’s filled with wit and full on comic book action. It feels like classic Strontium Dog, because it is. There are enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged, and the tale also features Middenface McNulty, a firm fan favourite and a bundle of fun to read. The return of Alpha is well handled, and fits the feel of the universe. It’s almost so good that you can forgive the nagging feeling that Johnny should stay dead, but only almost.
The other problem with this book is that the other story in it, The Project ends rather abruptly and does feel properly concluded. I’m aware there are more books to come in this series, but I still like my tales to end properly, which in many ways is the problem with this book. Johnny Alpha’s tale ended years ago, and this attempt at reigniting past glories feels crude and over-done.