Strontium Dog is a cornerstone of the pantheon of characters that have made British sci-fi comic 2000AD so essential over the years. The strip may not carry the universal gravitas of Judge Dredd, but it holds its own alongside other greats such as Nemesis the Warlock and Rogue Trooper.
However, Strontium Dog’s history didn’t start with 2000AD. The strip was originally developed for sister title Starlord, designed to catch an older audience than 2000AD was attracting, though the two were merged after Starlord had published just 22 fortnightly issues.
This book collects stories from the Starlord days, before Strontium Dog transferred to 2000AD. It was created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra, the same writer and artist team that originally dreamed up Dredd. However, the key difference between Dredd and Stronty is that Ezquerra held on to the art duties on the strip for many years, creating a coherent look and feel that started with these first episodes and carried on for years. Having said that, there are a few strips in this collection by other artists, including Brendan McCarthy and Ian Gibson, and even, it seems, some written by someone other than John Wagner, but these are mostly special stories created for the Starlord annuals and Summer Special.
Unfortunately for this collection (and perhaps for Starlord at the time), the best Strontium Dog stories are yet to come. For the completist, this is clearly a key collection but it’s not going to sell the character to a modern audience. I have a love for Strontium Dog that goes back decades but even I can’t find much to like about the stories in this collection.
To be fair, much of it is setting groundwork for what’s to come, exploring the nature of the far-future universe the series is set in. It’s all here from the beginning: the outsider mutant, marginalised by society and left to clear up the criminal messes that regular law enforcement find distasteful; the iconic x-ray vision that gives lead character Johnny Alpha his edge; and the plethora of gadgets he has at his disposal, to help bring in his bounties, dead or alive. His human sidekick, the space Viking called Wulf, is here from the beginning, as is the Gronk, a metal-eating alien species with hearts so weak they can die of fright. What isn’t here (yet) is the impressive wider array of mutant agents also vying for bounties and the human side of Alpha shining through.
The stories from the annuals and specials are reserved for last but these are the weakest, written anonymously and mostly illustrated by people who aren’t Carlos Ezquerra. McCarthy makes a decent stab at it but Keith Page’s Alpha is odd-looking.
For a Strontium Dog fan it’s all a bit disappointing, nowhere near as powerful as it becomes later on, and light on plot and character building. Essential for completists but a terrible introduction to what Strontium Dog will become.