Graphic Novel Reviews

Chopper: Surf's Up

(2010) John Wagner et al, Rebellion, £19.99, pbk, unnumbered pp, ISBN 978-1-907-51927-7


Chopper is a spin-off character from Judge Dredd in the weekly British comic 2000AD which as we all know is the 'greatest comic in the Galaxy'. This graphic novel brings together many (most) of his stories.

Judge Dredd himself inhabits Mega City One which covers nearly all of the eastern seaboard of the present-day US but in the 22nd century. Much of the rest of what was the US has become a mutant inhabited, radioactive wasteland from a nuclear war and called the Cursed Earth. Mega City One itself is ultra modern but has very high unemployment and this leads to both crime and boredom with the latter itself fostering low-level crime. Marlon 'Chopper' Shakespeare was a former young graffiti tagger (a 'scrawler') who signed his name with a smiley face in the 'o' (see 'UnAmerican Grafitti'). However he turned to sky surfing, an illegal sport, and so crossed Judge Dredd for a second time (see 'Midnight Surfer'). He then went into self-exile from Mega City One in 'Oz' (what is today Australia). These three stories were so popular that Chopper got his own strip in 1988 and then over the years there were subsequently half a dozen more adventures up to 2004. This graphic novel brings together these latter 'Chopper' strips.

First, a word about sky surfing. It is the 22nd century we are talking about and so science and technology have advanced. There is antigravity technology. One application has been the development of high-tech surf boards that use antigravity so enabling surfers to fly on their boards. In Mega City One fooling about irresponsibly with many people around the buildings, as well as low-level surfing, is illegal. Yet the attraction of surfing as a risk sport is for some irresistible and for some years there has been an illegal World Power Board Championship called 'Supersurf''. Following his release from isocube (prison) Chopper decides to enter Supersurf 7 which Mega City One is (unofficially because it is illegal) hosting. Chopper enters it as the Midnight Surfer and wins, but only to go back to an isocube.

The stories collected in the graphic novel Chopper:Surf's Up all take place after the Midnight Surfer and after Chopper had gone to Oz (Australia). After an Oz Supersurf Chopper had taken to living in the radback (the Oz equivalent of the Cursed Earth) but the lure of the Oz Mega City and its sky surfers draws him into an unofficial race with an Oz Supersurf champion…

The next story concerns the World Championship Supersurf 11 which is held in MegaCity 2 (on the western seaboard of the former US). The head of the multibillion Stig corporation has sponsored this year's supersurf and (with Stig's Judge connections) enabled it to be legal and Chopper is allowed to enter provided he makes no attempt to return to Mega City One. So Chopper leaves Oz with his sky surfing chums and goes to Mega City 2. However Stig plans to make a huge amount with the broadcasting rights and decides to beef up the competition with obstacles including snipers (think the film Rollerball). Naturally there is big prize money to entice the competitors… This is the first of the Chopper stories in full colour, as are the rest in the series.

The following adventure is once more set back in Oz. Chopper is once more living in the Radback but this time in a sort of surfer commune. Meanwhile the Stig corporation decides to get their own back on Chopper for what he did in Mega City 2 as well as to take over the site of the commune which happens to be on a junction point of a number of song lines: a Stig corporate executive thinks he can use this confluence to control the very Earth, perhaps trigger earthquakes at will… This story also reveals just how different Oz judges are compared to the Judges of Mega City One and 2. Oz judges are far more relaxed and laid back.

We then get a mercifully short 8 page story that is absolute drivel with a script by Garth Ennis (who should know better) and even worse artwork by Martin Emond. Chopper surfs a radioactive canyon that affects his brain as he literally goes on a trip. (Yawn.)

The next outing is another short adventure scripted by maestro and Judge Dredd creator, John Wagner and with lettering by the legendary ('lettering', 'legend' geddit) late Tom Frame in which having attended the funeral of a fellow surfer in Mega City One, Chopper has to leave the city escaping the judges.

Then it is back to business with the epic 'Supersurf 13' in which the Hondo Cit (Japan) judges recruit Chopper to represent Japan as PR to encourage some of Hondo's burgeoning population to migrate. The story's script is by lettering is again by the 2000AD stalwart Tom Frame but the artwork is by Alan McKenzie (who was once briefly 2000AD's editor). The artwork is interesting, especially being done in pastels. However I am not sure that pastels are the best medium for a high action story set in the highly detailed backdrop of a Mega City, but then I am no artist so what do I know.

The final story concerns the girlfriend of a recently deceased sky surfing friend of Chopper. It seems she has run into trouble in Mega City One and so Chopper illegally returns to help… Again the story is by John Wagner, and the excellent, colourful and detailed in realistic style, comic strip art is done by Patrick Goddard, Dylan Teague (pencils) and Chris Blythe (colouring). Gone-but-not-forgotten Tom Frame again does the lettering. However, the Judges are on to Chopper having illegally returned and also things are not quite what they seem with the lass Chopper has come to help.

All told, the various Chopper stories' intermittent appearances span 1981 to 2004 and they represent one of a number of the arcs set in Judge Dredd's universe (even though not many actually featuring Dredd himself). These early Chopper stories have, to my knowledge (and so I may be in error but I doubt it), only appeared once before in a graphic anthology and these were in Judge Dredd 5 (1985) and Judge Dredd 13 (1987) by publishers Titan Books: that was a quarter of a century ago! And so, an anthology bringing these and the subsequent stories together has been long over due. So thumbs up to Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley and Graphic Novels Editor Keith Richardson for deciding to bring this edition out. But why did they then go and balls it up?!

This collection does for the first time bring together most of the Marlon 'Chopper' Shakespeare stories in a single volume, but it leaves out the first three: 'UnAmerican Graffiti', 'Midnight Surfer' and 'Oz'! The only time we have had some sort of a collection of Chopper stories came 18 months ago with two approximately 50-page mini-graphic anthologies that were bagged with the March and April 2009 editions (#282 and #283) of the monthly Judge Dredd Megazine but even these only had between them about half the Chopper stories.  Now, the thing about these bagged minis is that while they do give tasters of long past 2000AD stories to readers who have only been indulging in 'thrill power' (that's the stuff 2000AD contains) for a paltry several years or less, for those of us with literally decades of Tharg's (2000AD's real editor) offerings under our belts these are a bit of a waste of cash (especially if the Megazine is having one of its odd periods such as it did with the ill-fitting 'Tank Girl' a little while back). And so the real value comes from the proper graphic novel collections that are large enough to contain complete (or at least complete elements) of 2000AD strip story arcs, and have titles on the spine for ease of finding on one's bookshelf. For us having a properly complete anthology of all the Marlon 'Chopper' Shakespeare stories in one volume would have been really something. I certainly would have been prepared to pay the couple of quid extra for that (more money for Rebellion) and I bet a bagful of Galactic groats that virtually all 2000AD regulars would feel the same way! Now, the role of Graphic Novel Editor is an important one as that person is responsible for distilling the history of Tharg's outpourings for us Earthlets whose bookshelves ward off Thrill Suckers, and so in turn provide a veritable local community service. (Yes Cameron, that really is the 'Big Society' for you.) Maybe the decision was economic and the Graphics Editor told by the CEO this is your budget, or whatever. Or maybe they thought that because a couple of the stories are currently out in the Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files that they were not warranted in this one. Well I for one do not mind a bit of duplication and indeed have over the years accumulated three versions (four occasionally) of a good number of Dredd stories in various anthologies. Indeed in terms of written fiction, I have duplicate versions of a number of short stories: probably three or four of Asimov's 'Nightfall' in things like 'Best SF' and Asimov anthologies. But I do not mind as I want my anthologies coherently complete even if that means duplication. So having all the stories of a character, or story arc or whatever, in one single volume is still important. (Heck, doesn't Rebellion want the extra sales!) When I sit down to read a novel I really want the whole thing in one place and not stories fragmented over a number of titles in my collection which is just plain irritating. This problem Rebellion has is not confined to this particular offering. So, no matter the rationale for how the contents of this particular volume was decided, I really urge Jason and Keith to sit down over a cup of tea (and perhaps even a hottie) to come up with some guidelines as to how 2000AD's archives are best mined for their graphic novel anthologies so that their full value to longstanding and dedicated 2000AD readers is realised. No more skimping, ya hear.

Enough said.

Jonathan Cowie

[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 11.4.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]