COMIC BOOK REVIEW: STRONTIUM DOG - THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JOHNNY ALPHA: DOGS OF WAR / AUTHOR: JOHN WAGNER / ARTIST: CARLOS EZQUERRA / PUBLISHER: 2000AD / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Lapsed 2000AD readers may not have noticed, but John Wagner's other big creation is back, and he's at war. Returned from the dead, we find mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha at war with all 'norm'kind, assisted by his trusty mutie chums and the not-so trusty symbiote living inside his body. Those who remember Strontium Dog as a light-hearted strip about time travel and bounty hunting (with the occasional Judge Dredd cameo) have some catching up to do.
If you've not read the comic in some time, you'd be recommended to go back and catch up on Johnny's more recent post-death adventures. Dogs of War wastes no time getting into the thick of things, with little explanation as to who anyone is or why Johnny has a bright green snot demon emerge from his face in the first few pages. Bear with it, though, and you'll quickly get into the rhythm of things; one of the best thing about 2000AD is its accessibility, even in the middle of big storylines – a good, old fashioned war story.
The book is written by character creators Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. While Ezquerra's work may be looking a little overly digital these days, he does a good job with the story in his typical gritty yet cartoonish fashion. Wagner's writing keeps a good handle on pace and scale; even though there's a lot going on, it's never overwhelming or dull. In addition to the return of Alpha, series favourites Kid Knee and Middenface McNulty are back too, providing levity and – in the case of McNulty – a comedic Scottish accent so thick it makes Oor Wullie and The Broons sound like the Queen's English by comparison. There's plenty of snarling villainy too, in a plot to sterilise the mutant race. It's little wonder that old Stronty seems less laid back and friendly than he did in Judgement Day. Although, to be fair, he was teamed with Dredd in that comic, which would make anyone seem comparatively laid back and friendly.
Some will baulk at Wagner's resurrection of Johnny Alpha, feeling it to be a bit of a Marvel or DC move. That's a fair criticism, although this is more a case of Wagner rectifying an old mistake rather than doing it simply to shift more comics. There was an intention, at least, for Alpha to stay dead, which is more than Marvel or DC can say for Wolverine or a dead Robin. And, as ever, the publishers manage to do it in a uniquely British manner. Strontium Dog lets Wagner bring the action home. ”The big bad battle of Milton Keynes had already begun,” he writes, in the heat of battle. Where else are you going to get such brilliantly English phrasing? Certainly not the Big Meg.
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