Thursday, January 1, 2009

81. The Dog is Back

Thrillpowered Thursday is a weekly look at the world of 2000 AD. I'm rereading my collection of 2000 AD and the Judge Dredd Megazine, one issue an evening, and once each week for the foreseeable future, I'll see what I'm inspired to write.

Jan. 2000: Prog 1177 sports a cover by Mark Harrison which promotes the series Glimmer Rats by himself and Gordon Rennie. Harrison signs the image "After Frazetta," but I'm not certain which particular Frazetta piece that Harrison's homage is evoking. For my money, the cover is certainly the best thing about Glimmer Rats, a gruesome, violent war story set in an ugly, physics-defying world with a million graphic deaths around each corner. The ten-part story began in "Prog 2000" and ranks among my least favorite strips to ever appear from the House of Tharg.

Everything else in prog 1177 is considerably more memorable. There's a fun Judge Dredd one-off by Alan Grant and Jason Brashill, one of a long series of single-part stories that Grant had contributed during this period, along with the ongoing epic Missionary Man, about which more next week, by Rennie and Trevor Hairsine. The prog also features what I believe is the first 2000 AD work by the writing team of Colin Clayton and Chris Dows on a Pulp Sci-Fi one-off illustrated beautifully by Cliff Robinson. The duo's later efforts, Bison and Synnamon, would receive mixed reviews from the fan base, but this is a perfectly good old-school thrill with a pretty cute twist ending.

The most entertaining, and most important, strip in the lineup is the very welcome return of Strontium Dog, back in action after almost a decade's layoff, and handled by the strip's original creators, John Wagner and Carlos Ezqeurra.

Strontium Dog first appeared in the premiere issue of Starlord back in 1978, and appeared in most of that comic's 22 issues before it was cancelled and merged with 2000 AD. From there, the series and its lead character, the mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha, became semi-regulars throughout the 1980s. Wagner initially wrote the series solo before teaming with Alan Grant for most of its celebrated run. Grant wrote the last few storylines on his own in the late 1980s. Almost all of the series was illustrated by Ezquerra, though he elected to stop working on Johnny's adventures once it was decided that the character would meet his demise in a major epic, "The Final Solution," and instead moved over to Crisis to illustrate Pat Mills' Third World War. The full run of the original Strontium Dog run is available in a series of big, chunky reprints called "Search/Destroy Agency Files," and your bookshelf looks naked without them.

Anyway, earlier in 1999, the Showtime cable network was developing TV series based on the 2000 AD properties Strontium Dog and Paul Neal's Outlaw. They came to nothing, but Wagner had assembled a pilot treatment and series bible for the proposed series, and, not wanting to waste a good thing, agreed that the time was right to bring Alpha back to action. "The Kreeler Conspiracy" is a thirteen-part expansion of Wagner's proposed pilot, and it appeared in the comic in two chunks across six months.

The story features the affectation of being the genuine history of Johnny Alpha, including "footnotes" from the historian who has compiled this dramatisation, and suggesting that the earlier series had presented legends of the bounty hunter's life. This notion would be used again in the second new story, which appeared in December 2000, before being quietly shelved in favor of a continuity-friendly approach that simply suggests the new run consists of previously untold tales of the character.

Strontium Dog has since joined the ranks of Tharg's periodic returning series. While it's not appearing anywhere as frequently as it did in its heyday, a new story appears once a year or so. At the time I'm writing this, it's on the ninth story since this comeback. It's called "Blood Moon" and it started in "Prog 2009." Honestly, I think the last one, "The Glum Affair," felt a little long, but otherwise the series is reliably inventive and imaginative, blessed with some great characters and some of comics' best artwork.

As far as reprints of this material go, Glimmer Rats was reprinted by Rebellion in a 2005 hardback that is not currently available at Amazon; Strontium Dog: The Kreeler Conspiracy just arrived in stores a few months ago. This collection will be reviewed here in a few weeks' time.

Next time, Dredd's nemesis Edgar finds a new job in Justice Department, Preacher Cain goes to Vegas, and Dredd goes to Oz in the newly-released eleventh Case Files. See you all in seven!

(Originally posted Jan. 1 2009 at hipsterdad's LiveJournal.)

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