Monday, 21 April 2014

Strontium Dog

I recently bought a collection of Strontium Dog stories.
As a child, I would rush to the newsagent every week to buy 2000AD: my favourite comic, or comic book, as the Americans would have it.  The main character in that publication, and the most popular, has always been Judge Dredd.  It wasn't that I didn't like Judge Dredd, but I found the stories of Nemesis the Warlock, and especially Strontium Dog, more compelling.  Looking back, I can see that the stories of Johnny Alpha had quite an effect on my young and impressionable mind.

In the 1980's, the area in which I lived had become a hotbed of racial tension.  I'm going to remain silent on the reasons for this, but the divisions were there, and those divisions were strong.  From some quarters, there was pressure to conform, and displaying anything other than hatred for those from another cultural, and often religious, background made you a traitor against your own people.  This attitude was by no means universal, but it was more widespread than I had imagined.

It is questionable whether I would have eventually been pulled into the aforementioned school of thought.  In many ways, I was the typical nerd, isolated by the time I spent learning to program a computer or obsessing about Star Wars.  A good point to make about science fiction fans is that we spend a lot of our time reading about alien civilizations, so our fellow humans seem somewhat less threatening to us.  However, like a lot of science fiction geeks, there was a feeling of exclusion, of being on the fringes of society: that, I believe, is where the interest in the tales of Johnny Alpha, the Strontium Dog, originally came from.

If you have never read Strontium Dog, it is set in a future where a radioactive shower has caused mutations in a section of the population.  Rather than sympathy, the mutants face hatred from the humans who were not affected by the radiation.  A recurring theme is that of exclusion, most importantly from employment, leaving the job of bounty hunter as the only viable option for a mutant.  Johnny Alpha is one such mutant.  For anyone who feels like they don't fit in, it's powerful stuff.

My young mind made the obvious connection between the intolerance shown to Johnny Alpha and the intolerance shown to ethnic and religious minorities.  Clearly, they are not mutants, but the hatred displayed towards them was just as incomprehensible to me.  I couldn't help but notice that the behaviour displayed by the bigoted humans in the comic was mirrored by the bigots I encountered on a daily basis.  In one story, a little girl says she does not understand why her mother doesn't like Johnny, only for her mother to scold her and hurriedly remove her from his presence.

It's arguable that Marvel did much the same thing with X-Men, but that was somewhat less appealing to me.  Reading the stories again, what strikes me is that they were incredibly violent, but the message about intolerance is incredibly clear.  People talk about books changing their lives.  Well, every week I would go and buy 2000AD, and it made a lasting impression on my young mind.

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