Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Say it with electronux

Johnny Alpha is a family man. Johnny Alpha looks after his own. Johnny Alpha hates it when the people he loves get hurt. Do not get him angry, or he will make his own laws.

Long-time fans might have noticed that a number of these Strontium Dog scans come not from the pages of 2000 AD, but those of Star*Lord. The series made its debut in this short-lived comic, which merged with 2000 AD after a mere 22 issues. More on Star*Lord another time. Anyway, Strontium Dog hit its stride pretty quickly back in 1978, and soon established some key themes, foremost of which was without his helmet on, Alpha really looks like that guy from 'Clash of the Titans'

More importantly, we learn pretty quickly that Alpha is very much in touch with his inner rage. This was made pretty damned explicit about 7 years and 30 adventures later, when he spent 26 weeks in the epic 'Rage!' storyline. Even here, however, he never really loses his temper; more scarily, he always seems to know exactly what he's doing, even while he's whaling on some villain or other. I've always seen Johnny Alpha as a hero, someone to admire and emulate, although I wouldn't go into his line of work... But what about his disturbing tendency to destroy his enemies so utterly? It's not as if one can dismiss this as simple bestiality, as with a less interesting character like Wolverine (actually, Wolverine's pretty cool; shame he hasn't been in nearly as many entertaining stories as Alpha).

Alan Grant, who developed the series on his own in the late 80s, presumably made a similar connection when he created young new Strontium Dog 'Feral'. His mutation was never that obvious, beyond that he was kinda feral-looking. Anyway, he was a fan of Alpha's, and was set up as the new breed. He defended mutant rights, was brave, disrespectful, and good at akilling. But he was no hero - didn't have Alpha's hold on morality, see. Something it would take (cough, spoiler, cough) Alpha's death (cough) for him to realise. In some ways, he was 2000 AD's equivalent to the hot proto-image style characters flooding Marvel at about the same time (1990ish); cool design, lots of death and hot-headedness, poorly services by artists in later times (sorry, Mr Dobbyn; loved your Medivac 318, hated your Strontium Dogs...) Any, massive digression. But then, this is my blog, I don't have to make goddamn excuses. Screw you.

Back to the 'heroic anger' concept. Specifically, is it legitmate? To some extent one can appeal to the argument that the recipients of Alpha's rage are dirty scum who have it coming. Certainly the key 'power' of any classic comic book hero is the uncanny ability to always know who is evil and worth fighting - but then don't heroes also work within the remit of 'thou shalt not maim horribly, let alone kill'? Not in the 2000 ADverse. But still, all of Alpha's victim's have felt justifiable, in a way that ever third Dredd story (or so), shows him, or at least the law he serves, being way unjust.

2000 AD is of course famous for its 'anti-heroes', which as far as I can tell is a fairly loose way of describing people who basically do good, but usually only for some reward (e.g. financial), and who aren't averse to a bit of excess violence and treading on the little people along the way. Alpha is a step above this rather cynical definition, on the grounds that he dares to take on bounty jobs that others wouldn't. He'll go for the truly evil, and for people who could kill him all too easily. Sure, he gets a high bounty (not that he ever gets to spend it...), but the risks are high. More overt heroism is evident in the many tales in which he ends up working for free; or at least, taking on work beyond the terms of the bounty, often to help some poor mutie.

I'm not sure I'm going anywhere with this post. Really, I was looking for an excuse to show Alpha being mean. And when he really wants to get into it, he doesn't need his measly number four cartridge - it's time to bring out the electronux - the single coolest weapon in the whole 2000 ADverse:


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