Created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra, for the comic Starlord then transferred to 2000AD when Starlord folded, mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha is probably the most famous character from 2000AD after Judge Dredd. Born a society that is very prejudiced against mutants the only jobs open to them is being members of the Search/Destroy agency whose distinctive S/D badges has led to them being nicknamed "Strontium Dogs". Johnny Alpha has mutated eyes which allow him to see through walls and read minds. His stories ran through the eighties, but then in 1990, John Wagner decided to kill him off. Johnny sacrificed himself saving mutants from extermination in a storyline called "The Final Solution". Ezquerra refused to draw the story and later Wagner said it was "one of the big regrets of my career. Probably the biggest". However, after nearly twenty years of further adventures set before his death, Wagner teamed up with Ezquerra to bring Johnny back to life with this story set not long after his presumed death. This story explicitly retcons the fact that in the original Johnny's remains were destroyed, while in this storyline his body was recovered intact. So it's up to Precious Matson a reporter, and Middenface McNulty who was Johnny's best friend to discover the real truth of what has happened to Johnny Alpha since. This story is collected in Strontium Dog: The Life And Death of Johnny Alpha - The Project.
|Precious finds McNulty.|
Precious: "So much of Johnny's life is shrouded in mystery. Sometimes I wonder if I can ever penetrate it, ever get to the real Johnny Alpha".
McNulty was his closest friend so she'd be grateful for his help. So McNulty gets rid of his drinking buddies and they sit together and talk. "The Final Solution" turned out to be a portal set up at Stonehenge by Lord Sagan's boys. They were sending mutants through to another dimension, it was a slaughterhouse.
McNulty managed to escape before he got forced though the portal but Johnny and another mutant called Feral weren't so lucky, "they were set upon by weird beasties". The supernatural mumbo jumbo is over his head. Precious says the story goes that Jphnny was blinded but he didn't give up. McNulty says he couldn't quit fighting, and it needed a blood sacrifice to open the portal and Johnny made that sacrifice so the others could get back out.
|McNulty recounts what he heard about Johnny's death.|
McNulty doesn't believe her, he insists Johnny was burned to a frazzle. He then asks her why Feral would lie to him. Precious says she doesn't know but she does know what a man called "Barry Roberts" told her. She wanted to interview the Churchers who forced Johnny and the others through the portal, and managed to find one of the few who hadn't been killed.
We flashback to her at Barry's house. He is a paraplegic and sneers that there is a smell when she comes in. But Precious butters him up and he decides to tell her his side of the story. He tells her he doesn't know who ordered Johnny through the portal, "he was a mutant, that's all we needed to know." He says he found Johhny and Feral and pushed them through, best thing for their kind.
When the muties started coming back through and started attacking the Churchers. It was a slaughter, "they wanted their revenge and they got it". Johnny didn't come through then, it was later. He was hiding under one of the caravans when he saw Feral and a fish headed mutant carry Johnny's intact body out. And then Johnny Alpha sat up.
|The Churcher reveals the truth.|
Back with McNulty he is stunned that Johnny sat up. Precious says that can be a common post mortem reaction so not to get too excited. They sit and think about what they can do next to confirm this story. Feral is missing presumed dead. Precious says if he comes with her he'll pay all his expenses and a generous fee at the end. But McNulty says he won't take money if it's for Johnny. They decide to seek out the fish faced mutant and McNulty has a friend who might be some help. They speak to a fellow S/D agent and he tells them they are looking for "Fish Wilson" who comes from the Chelmsford ghetto. So off Precious and McNulty go.
They arrive at his house and his mother answers the door. As he climbs out of the back window his mum says he's been gone for months. McNulty spots him though and goes chasing after him. Wilson manages to elude him, so Precious tells his mum that they just want to talk to her son and that she'd be willing to pay. Back at their hotel Precious says "in my experience Middenface, the carrot usually works better than the stick".
|Fish Wilson and mum.|
He then says he made a promise not to tell to Feral, and if he finds out he'll come and get him, "there's something abnormal about him". McNulty says if he doesn't start telling the truth, Feral will be the last thing he has to worry about. Wilson's mum also threatens to put him over her knee, so he spills the truth.
He was one of the last to get to the portal when it was reopened. He saw Feral bending over Johnny's body. Feral asks him to help getting him back through and hurry because the portal is closing. They took him into one of the caravans and it looked to Wilson that Johnny was dead, he wasn't breathing. He did sit up and lie down again, but Wilson still swears he wasn't breathing.
|Fish also spills the truth.|
Realising they won't get anymore information out of him, Precious pays his mum and after they leave Precious has some questions now.
Precious: "I don't understand - the story about Johnny being burnt to a cinder and left in that dimension - how did that become accepted history".
McNulty says he might be at fault, he did lots of interviews. Feral told him what happened and he told the world. He didn't want Johnny's sacrifice to be forgotten, "hoo wuz I tae know it wuz a pack o'lies?" Their next move should be to find Feral and get some straight answers out of him.
They catch a shuttle to the Eezy Space Station and McNulty starts telling Precious about Feral. Apparently he was last seen talking about "makin' wan big score, then giein' the heave". Most S/D agents say that but maybe there was more to it this time. He took a transgalactic flight bound for Eros, he disembarked at a transport hub on the Kam-Karmam Rim and there is no record of him leaving.
Precious asks if he might be dead, McNulty can't say for sure. The station is a favourite place for people to disappear, freighters will take passengers for the right amount of cash, "an' Feral had reason tae throw a wee swerve - there were Stronty Dogs on his trail". Precious says "there were?" And McNulty says it was a pair of chancers called Jammy Hendrix and Pooch Bickersby.
Apparently about the time Feral disappeared there was a big warrant out for Namu, daughter of the Mutator. It was for five million dead or alive which would be enough to retire with a pension. She wasn't dangerous but she was hard to find. The two Strontium Dogs figured Feral had a lead on her. He'd been mouthing off in the Doghouse bar and getting into fights. Nobody liked him much.
Feral was banned from the place, as he was shown out he made some claims that he'd soon be rich enough to buy the place. So when he left he was followed to the hub where he then vanished. McNulty says his bet is that of the freighters that left, Feral was on the one to Min'Ul'-Q-Uurl which was where Namu had pulled a big sting. Precious says that's where they go next.
McNulty protests that it's no job for a lady, but she retorts that she's accompanied Johnny on a hunt, and as she is financing this expedition her involvement is non-negotiable. As they travel, McNulty reminisces.
McNulty: "Y'know whit gets me is aw them lies. Me an' Feral met up at Stonehenge maybe a week efter. I can still see him standing there - I swear there wuz tears in his eyes".
He remembers Feral saying Johnny's blood opened the way back and how unfair it is that everyone else gets a happy ending except for Johhny. He wonders what he was really up to, Precious says they need to find him first.
|McNulty, very diplomatic.|
They disembark and McNulty uses his Search/Destroy identity to get stamped through customs. We then get a note which tells us that they spent thirty-nine days questioning official, law enforcement agencies, hoteliers and other likely contacts. Their enquiries proved exhausting and fruitless. During this time McNulty remained in control of his alchohol habit.
They sit in a bar and finally have to admit that no one has seen Feral there, humans aren't exactly common there and someone should have remembered him. McNulty says he'll check out the other ships crews which could take years. He tells her to leave things to him and he'll keep her informed. So Precious returns to Freedonia to work on her book while McNulty sent her updates which at first were frequent, then later less so.
Sometime later Precious returns to Paisley and finds a drunken and miserable McNulty who has given up the search. Precious then tells him that she has found Feral, at least she knows what he was doing three months ago. She put out an offer of a large reward for information about him and the other day was contacted by 1/9870590, a Robocian who definitely saw Feral on Garn. McNulty says he's probably a chancer, but Precious says Robocian's are genetically incapable of any form of deception. Now is McNulty going to come with her or will he stay and wallow in booze.
Later Precious has to go and get him out of the brig, she pays off his tab but agrees with keeping McNulty there for the rest of the trip. Finally they reach their destination and will find out what has happened to Feral. Before we get to that, the following has been inserted into the narrative:
Author's Note: "Much has been written about Feral, principally by the notorious fantasist Ho Gan, little of it bearing any resemblance to actual events. As previously stated I rely solely upon the accounts of Precious Matson, who was intimately involved in events and whose veracity has been established."
And if you are wondering what that's all about, please be aware that Peter Hogan wrote spin-off stories in the nineties starring Feral after Johnny Alpha was killed off. This explicitly writes those out of canon in a somewhat mean-spirited way.
They speak to the alien representative over video communications. It seems Feral is in prison for the destruction of a Garn spaceship and the slaughter of its crew, "Feral is now in the fattening cells being prepared for ritual immolation" They ask to speak to him but are told they cannot enter Garn because they have noses and thus are "unclean".
They plead with the alien saying they want to ask Feral about where the body of Johhny Alpha is. This sways the alien as Johnny was instrumental in saving their Grand Inquisitor from the clutches of the Durran and is regarded as a hero. So they are allowed access to the prison alone, and when they get there they find he is extremely obese now and being force fed by the Garners. They leave them alone with Feral and McNulty expresses his sympathy at seeing Feral like this.
|Feral in the feeding cell.|
They ask him about Johnny's body and Feral says he knows nothing, which enrages McNulty who shouts at him saying he wants the truth. Feral says "So you want the truth? Funny, lies are usually enough for most people." He says he won't tell them unless they bust him out. This angers McNulty again, but Feral calls the guards to come take them away.
Next day the Garners come to cut off his nose. Feral screams that it isn't right. Two hooded priests come in and turn out to be McNulty and Precious in disguise. They train weapons on the surgical team and tell them to get lost and end up alone with Feral again, this time he is willing to tell them everything that happened with Johnny.
|Feral gives them the truth.|
We then see the creature blown apart and Johnny lying there with Feral and Fish Wilson coming to his aid. They took him through and tried to revive him but he wasn't breathing. But it was weird, he wasn't like a normal dead body, "all the life had drained out of him and yet... yet it was like there was some little ember burning inside." He never went cold, he stayed warm to the touch, Feral had never seen anything like it.
He decided he couldn't take the chance of the Churchers getting hold of his body and using it as a trophy so he decided to take him to a healer he knew in the Badlands. McNulty asks if he didn't stop to take a nibble of Johnny's heart. Feral laughs and says he just told that to Fish Wilson to frighten him.
Precious asks why he didn't tell McNulty about this when he met him a week later. Feral says he couldn't trust anyone, he was suspicious of McNulty because while he and Johnny got caught and sent through the portal, McNulty got away. This angers McNulty again who starts throttling Feral, but Precious tells him off and he stops.
Feral continues with his story, he took Johnny to the hermit healer who wasn't able to bring him back but told Feral that there was those out there who had powers greater than he, "have you ever heard of the Stone Wizards?"
Hermit: "They say they can create life itself. Some believe they are the god that man has worshipped since he crawled from the swamp - the ones who seeded this planet. Of course that's all tosh, but it's true that the Stone Wizards have powers beyond the ken of mere grubs like us."
Feral says the journey there would be long and difficult as the Stone Wizards are on Zen, the far side of the galaxy. McNulty is disbelieving, saying that a mutant from the Milton Keynes ghetto with no cash wouldn't suddenly be able to speed across the galaxy, he's making the Stone Wizards up. But Precious says they Wizards do exist she has read accounts from very reliable sources.
Feral says the hermit had a lot of contacts, including several Spacers and he travelled off Earth on a mutant crewed freighter. He has Johnny's body with him in a box, and he was barely out of the system when the crew opened the box and demanded to know what he was playing at. Feral told them the truth and they believed him. They passed him onto another freighter, then aboard an asteroid miner whose crew he didn't trust so he jumped ship at a way station near the Gargoniles.
|Feral travelling across Zen.|
Zen was a strange place, the land itself was in a state of flux. He wandered for days and just as he was about to give up, he found them, "they just looked like... well, like pillars of stone." There was another pilgrim there who wanted the gift of invisibilty. The wizards granted it but made him insubstantial as well and when the alien complains they tell him he should have been more specific.
Feral then stepped into the stone circle holding Johnny's body. He shouts that he has come to them whose magic is greater than the Lyrian sorcerers who did this to Johnny. The Wizards examine Johnny and say that "soul-sucking is so passe... they really haven't progressed, have they?"
Feral says he pleaded and begged with the Wizards but they wouldn't help. McNulty says he might be a "drunken bam" but he's experienced enough to know when he's not getting the full story. Feral admits that they would only bring Johnny back in exchange for Feral's life. And of course Feral didn't agree to that. He left Johhny buried underneath a tree in a forest that had appeared overnight and carved a memorial to him on the tree and left him there on Zen.
|Feral unable to make the final sacrifice.|
Precious knocks on the door saying actually "I'm afraid that was something we were not able to do". They had colluded with the Garners to pretend they were saving him so he'd talk. As Feral rages, the head Garner says they did it for Johnny's benefit and McNulty thanks them.
Next day they are still on Garn waiting to get transport off planet. As Precious types up her notes, McNulty witnesses the execution of Feral - now minus his nose - through the window. He is lead to a stake, tied to it, slathered in fat then flaming arrows are fired into him and he goes up like a torch. Upset McNulty says Johnny would have found a way to rescue Feral and make things right with the Garners, "I'm no' half the he wuz. No' half the man". Precious comforts him saying Feral paid for his crime, but McNulty is still miserable.
Finally they reach Zen and ask how to get to the great forest. They are told that it was last seen "upways" last, so they should head "sideways" to catch it when it swirls round. Precious is a bit dubious but McNulty says he's being told "nothing is certain oan Zen, but there's a good chance this time of year. Maybe eighty percent. Mak O' that what ye will".
They set out with some Zenian guides and rations for months of travel. On the evening of the sixth day their guide sniffs the air and tastes the soil and predicts the forest would appear there so they make camp and wait. That night the ground is in heavy flux and suddenly the forest appears not far away and they travel to it.
They hunt around and find the memorial carved on one of the trees, they dig and find the box that Johnny's body is inside. McNulty stops and tells Precious he's brooded a lot about the bad things he's done and how he believes that if he'd gone through the portal he might have been able to save Johnny, "but I know I'd just huv chickened oot. Because that's the kind o'man I am." And he takes a swig of some booze to fortify himself.
|Johnny's grave discovered.|
They drag the box out of the ground and tentatively open it and find Johnny's body still in perfect condition. He's even still warm to the touch, Precious asks McNulty what it means.
McNulty: "He's no deid. He cannae be. I know deid. I've seen deid mair than I care to remember. An' that's - no - deid!"
They decide to take Johnny back to the Stone Wizards, he thinks he can talk them round. Their guide seems to have buggered off so they set out to find the Wizards themselves or make it back to Port Hopeless to hire another one. They had brough solar generators to recharge the skimmers so they had plenty of time to look and finally after a lot of travel get back to the Port.
They rest up, then something unexpected happens. A crowd forms and tells them the Stone Wizards are due the day after tommorrow and they are going to come with them. And so Precious, McNulty and Johnny's body travel out to the Wizards with the rest of the crowd who are coming to petition them for favours despite the capriciousness of the stony ones.
Finally it's McNulty's turn and he stands in the middle and after the Stone Wizards adjust to his dialect they ask if he thinks they got it wrong about Johnny, is he "crusin' fer a brusin'?" McNulty says that he thinks Feral didn't give them the full story about Johnny.
|McNulty pleads his case with the Wizards.|
McNulty continues that after the war Johnny became a bounty hunter, but he never "shoot naebody who wouldny be the better fer a wee hole in the heid".
McNulty: "He a'ways took the side of the underdog. Always tried tae protect folk who couldny stand up fer themsel's. An' the whole o'mutantkind looked up tae him as a true hero. An' when the end came - when the end came... sniff"
He tells the Stone Wizards that Johnny saved hundreds from Lyrian sorcery and that's how he ended up dead but not dead. He says there's something still alive in him and doesn't know if Johnny has been aware of what's been going on all this time and please could they help him?
The Stone Wizards say they get the picture, but the deal is the same the offered Feral, his life in exchange for Johnny's. McNulty says as long as Johnny gets his eyes back he will take the deal, "Johnny Alpha's worth ten o'me and ye'd still get change".
And Stone Wizards cause lightning to flicker round McNulty and also around Johnny while removing the remnants of the Lyrian sorcery inside him. There is a huge flash of light and we end with Jonny kneeling outside the circle and Precious running up to him calling his name. Cliffhanger!
|He's back! But what of McNulty?|