Garth EnnisStrontium Dog2000 AD
Strontium Dogs: Return of the Gronk
Medium: comic
Year: 1993
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Nigel Dobbyn
Country: UK
Keywords: Strontium Dog, 2000 AD, favourite
Format: 2000 AD 817-824
Website category: Comics UK
Review date: 3 March 2022
It's my favourite Garth Ennis 2000 AD story. This wasn't a great era for the mag, mind you. Ennis was struggling with Judge Dredd, while the empty stories of Mark Millar hadn't disappeared yet. Ennis, though, also loved Strontium Dogs. He'd revived the series as a spin-off of itself, with Feral Jackson as its first sort-of protagonist. Here, he adds the Gronk. I adore the Gronk. He's a fabulous action hero, because he's such an unlikely one.
"Gronks, from planet Blas in the Gallego system, are by nature the most timid and delicate of creatures. A loud noise or mild surprise is enough to provoke a heart attack in the majority of them."
Imagine a fluffy toy with six limbs, a trunk-like snout and a mouth in its belly. (Gronk physiology is odd, e.g. the ability to eat metal.) It has big eyes and a goofy speech pattern. It would get on well with Alpha Centauri from Doctor Who. This story's first episode shows us how this Gronk used to be Johnny Alpha's medic many years ago, but retired after the death of their mutual friend, Wulf Sternhammer. He didn't like the killing. He worked in the doghouse hospital, but then one day there was a bomb.
He's been a coma ever since. It's been two years. He doesn't even know about Johnny Alpha's death. When he learns, he'll have a major cardiac arrest... "but all is not what it seems. Many would die from such a shock, but every once in a billion Gronks, it can, very rarely, result in a temporary coma and the accidental activation of a dormant part of the Gronk's brain. The aggressive part."
What follows is standard 2000 AD ultra-violence, but the Gronk makes it great. He loved and mourned his Strontium Dog friends. He wants payback. That's a solid emotional basis for all the killing... of which, yes, there's plenty. This is 2000 AD, after all. The Gronk kills a couple of thousand soldiers off-panel. Silly mad scientists make a Gronkinator and laugh as it cuts up random people in the street as a test of its capabilities. The Gronk finds Feral, who's a drunken mess but will still claw baddies to death.
I also love Nigel Dobbyn's art. He gives it a jolly, cartoonish edge that's perfect for the Gronk, yet also delivers the goods with violence, explosions and death.
For what it's worth, John Wagner later retconned Ennis's Strontium Dogs run, so all this might no longer be canon. But sod that. I love this story. Always have, always will. It's not quite as special on rereading as I remembered, but it's still one of my 2000 AD favourites.
"There's... ah, there's a fuselier regiment stationed up in Andover. Gronk, I get the feeling you used to hang around with some pretty tough people..."
"That's rights. The toughests. Now let's kicks some ass."