STRONTIUM DOG: THE SON, OGN
Writers: John Wagner, Rob Williams, Alan Grant, Mike Carroll & Matt Smith
Artists: Carlos Ezquerra, Laurence Campbell, Patrick Goddard
Publisher: 2000 AD
WHAT IS IT?
A sci-fi meets spaghetti western story with plenty of heart featuring some of Carlos Ezquerra’s last work before his death.
Think X-men meets Cowboy Bebop.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Nuclear war has ravaged Great Britain. The fallout has affected everyone, leading to children being mutated at birth. These mutants suffer extreme prejudice leading to an uprising led by Johnny Alpha which unfortunately fails. These unfortunate citizens become legally segregated into ghettos and the Mutant Army agrees to be pardoned for their crimes in exchange for exiling themselves from Earth. The army moves to a space station in Earth’s orbit, where they start a bounty hunting agency called the Search/Destroy Agency or colloquially, the Strontium Dogs.
Years later and after a few setbacks, the Agency is back in business. Unfortunately, they are strapped for recruits and have to take in a boatload of rookies to make up for it. Each rookie is paired with a veteran and as if by fate, Johhny Alpha is paired up with Kenton Sternhammer, the lost son of his deceased partner, Wulf. While Kenton is thrilled to be placed with his father’s old buddy, Johnny thinks the young mutant isn’t up to snuff. When Kenton provokes the wrath of high-bounty criminals, Johhny is seemingly proven right. Can Johnny get over his traumatic past? Will Kenton live up to his father’s legacy?
Also included in this anthology are three short comics focusing on Kenton's father Wulf in multiple contexts. The gunslinging Once Upon a Time in Der Vest and What If...? Max bubba Hadn't Killed Wulf are retellings of the Wulf's demise through different genres while Wulf Sternhammer: Valhalla is an emotional, meditative look at the character.
Durham Red and Stix: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, provides more context for the world of Strontium Dog and focuses on characters outside of Johnny and Wulf. Durham Red takes a bounty for an allegedly impossible-to-catch mark in the former story and Stix tells a tale of betrayal and humor from one of Johnny's former associates.
The Son shows Wagner’s skill at dropping the audience into an established story and giving just enough information to never confuse them. New readers to the Strontium Dog franchise can pick up this book without feeling like they’re missing a ton of context.
Williams’ dialogue in Once Upon a Time in Der Vest excellently demonstrates Johnny Alpha and Wulf’s personalities and their close relationship, providing further context for this collection’s titular story.
The story of Durham Red contains an interesting dilemma that Grant navigates magnificently. The characters are established well and tackle the problem in a way that feels unique to them.
Carroll’s writing in Wulf Sternhammer: Valhalla manages to pack in a lot of emotion in few pages. The story is funny and action-packed, but is also tinged with sadness.
Smith weaves western and sci-fi aesthetics in his story and dialogue with ease creating a fun story of betrayal with a hilarious twist.
Ezquerra’s work on The Son, Durham Red, and What If…? Max Bubba Hadn’t Killed Wulf is gritty and uses creative layouts, truly selling the rough and tough atmosphere of the Strontium Dogs while keeping the action flowing.
Likewise, his color work is excellent and manages to emphasize the focal point of each panel among very busy background art.
Carroll’s inking is superb. His balance of heavy blacks and whites excellently frames the important bits of action and also leaves room for lots of texture.
Weston’s art in Stix: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie is a wonderful homage to pulp western art styles. His character designs and faded coloring firmly set the tone of the story.
Wagner & Ezquerra’s work is dialogue-heavy and loose with typical comics conventions, but De Ville’s ensures this is never an issue. Her work in The Son is particularly commendable because of her masterful balloon placement.
Campbell’s lettering in Once Upon a Time in Der Vest excellently frames the action in this high-energy story and makes everything a smooth read.
Bowland displays a mastery of lettering, tackling multiple art and story styles with ease. Each story flows masterfully and the lettering feels like a natural extension of the art.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Beyond being a collection of the last works by Ezquerra, these stories seem tangentially connected and it’s unclear why other stories not featuring the artist were included.
The title of this book is a bit deceiving. There is only one comic featuring the Wulf’s son, Kenton, which might frustrate readers expecting this book to highlight him.
Ezquerra’s art tends to focus more on having a well-composed panel than having the speaking order follow typical comics conventions which sometimes disrupts the story's flow. Thankfully, the lettering helps a lot in this regard.
Once Upon A Time in Der Vest goes from color to black and white without an apparent explanation in the story. This could be an error in the review copy provided, but it was a bit distracting.
This collection doesn’t provide much backstory in the Strontium Dog universe beyond Johnny and Wulf’s relationship. Something with a bit more information would better explain the setting overall and would have prompted the tone of the first story better.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
One can’t speak of science fiction comics without discussing John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra. The influence of their work published by 2000 AD, creating such characters as Judge Dredd, speaks for itself. This collection features their last work together, as Ezquerra died in 2018. The Son was meant to be a revival of Strontium Dog after the two had disagreements about killing off the series' main character, Johnny Alpha, in 1999.
In many ways, this personal conflict between two creative masterminds seems to have influenced this collection’s titular story. Johnny seems incredibly bitter towards Kenton for simply having Wulf’s last name. The rookie agent reminds Johnny of his partner’s tragic death causing him to be cold and distant when all Kenton wants is a connection to the father he never met. The two end up mending the holes in their hearts through an action-packed romp where they learn to overcome their shared trauma and move forward. Although this is speculation, this could be seen as an insert by Wagner and Ezquerra to also move forward with this series, although it sadly never came to be.
The remaining stories in Strontium Dog: The Son provide additional context for the relationship between Johnny and Wulf, demonstrating their deep friendship. Once Upon A Time in Der Vest, What If…? Max Bubba Hadn’t Killed Wulf, and Wulf Sternhammer: Valhalla all show in few pages how deeply Wulf’s death impacted Johnny and that their working relationship went far beyond colleagues. The writers here demonstrate an incredible ability to make multifaceted stories that are enthusiastic sci-fi romps with lots of heart.
This may not be the best jumping-in point for anyone interested in Strontium Dog as a whole, but for anyone wanting a brief introduction and some solid art by a master craftsman, this is an excellent read.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Strontium Dog: Agency Files by John Wagner & Carlos Ezquerra
Judge Dredd by Mike Caroll & Various Artists
Judge Dredd: Year One by Mike Caroll, Al Ewing & Matt Smith
If you like the art:
Punisher Max, Vol. 11 by Gregg Hurwitz & Laurence Campbell
Aquila: Blood of the Iceni by Gordon Rennie, Leigh Gallagher & Patrick Goddard
Time Breakers by Rachel Pollock & Chris Weston
John Wagner – Writer
Rob Williams (@RobWilliams71) – Writer
Alan Grant – Writer
Mike Caroll (@MikeOwenCaroll) – Writer
Matt Smith (@BarbarianLord) – Writer
Carlos Ezquerra – Artist
Laurence Campbell (@GetCampbell) – Artist
Patrick Goddard (@PaddyGod1) – Artist
Chris Weston (@WestonFront) – Artist
Dylan Teague (@DylanTeague) – Colorist
Ellie De Ville - Letterer
Jim Campbell (@CampbellLetters) – Letterer
Simon Bowland (@SimonBowland) – Letterer
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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