Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"The old half-man had taught him a lot. He'd shown him how to survive, how to wring a living from the grudging heart of the radback. But there was one thing Smokie couldn't teach him... and that was how to live with failure.
"A few surfers are still skylarking in the updraught from the city wall. No searchlights on them. No crack of laser streaking up. Oz Judges are more lax, he knows. Live and let live. Pity they couldn't have been more like that in the Big Meg. Then he might have been living in a class hab like Jug McKenzie, beer and barbies on the terrace, laughing at the world.
"Might. He'd had his chance... he'd funked it.
"Bright lights, noise... a hustle and bustle all around... the city envelops him, rekindles memories... another time... another place...
"A boy, high above the streets, wind clawing at him, eager to rip him from his perch... defying the elements, the city... life itself.
"A young man... teeth gritted, eyes darting, body poised, twisting like a salmon through a torrent of traffic. Still flying in the face of the world. The voice of the city in his ears, calling HIS name.
"CHOPPER! CHOPPER! CHOPPER! CHOPPER!"
"You can cage me but you'll never beat me! I'll never lie down and die for you!"
"It seemed then that he was invulnerable, that nothing they could do could ever crush his spirit. But he was young then, he'd never tasted defeat...
"Moonlight glints on the water in the bay. Harbour bridge alive with traffic. He stands unseen above the flow. Anonymous. Nobody notices a loser."
So for those of you that don't know already I guess I have to confess in advance that Marlon 'Chopper' Shakespeare is hands-down my favourite 2000AD character ever. And his triumph in Supersurf 7 (told in JUDGE DREDD: COMPLETE CASE FILES VOL 9) is one of my all-time favourite comics. Similarly his epic voyage to Oz on only a powerboard and subsequent narrow defeat in Supersurf 10 by loud mouth Australian Jug McKenzie (in JUDGE DREDD: COMPLETE CASE FILES VOL 11) is undoubtedly one of the great 2000AD epic-length storylines. Where critics are divided, however, is by much of the Chopper material that followed, and indeed whether some of it should even be regarded as canon. This is a collection of all that subsequent material, written by John Wagner, Garth Ennis and Alan McKenzie and illustrated by a host of 2000AD regulars.
I can remember very well indeed the amazing 4-parter 'Soul On Fire' that opens this collection when it initially came out in 2000AD, from the first issue of which the above long excerpt is lifted, telling the story of a disillusioned and disheartened Chopper hiding out in the radback, having been forced to leave Oz in a hurry to escape Judge Dredd's gun sight at the climax of Supersurf 10. On an occasional late night visit back into Oz for supplies, he unexpectedly encounters Jug and persuades him to re-enact Supersurf 10. Whilst things don't exactly go as Chopper intended, it's an encounter that enables him to finally put the events of Supersurf 10 behind him, if not fully move on with his life. For me, it's one of John Wagner's best-ever 2000AD-related scripts, and Colin MacNeil's solemn black and white art more than does justice to it. Thereafter follows Supersurf 11, also written by Wagner and rather more colourfully drawn once again by MacNeil, where the sponsoring, villainous Stig corporation and its eponymous chairman re-introduce a few obstacles more familiar to the early illegal Supersurf races... like snipers and laser cannons. This is much more of a full throttle action tale and, again, another very very worthy addition to the Chopper stories.
Much of what followed I can remember being rather disappointed by at the time it came out, however whilst they don't hit the heady heights of previous material, I can happily say I enjoyed them considerably more this time around. I think what is greatly apparent is this material benefits from being read in such a collection, and in doing so it's apparent Garth Ennis and then Alan MacKenzie, and finally Wagner once more have chosen to bring other aspects of the character to the fore and tell some rather different stories. The essence of what makes Chopper who he is remains the same though... he's never, ever going to allow 'the man' to beat him down. And the final story in this collection, penned by Wagner, which I actually hadn't read before, finishes with an amusing little internal monologue from Chopper which did rather made me chuckle. Even now, with the accumulated wisdom of a few more years under my belt, he still represents a character I'd secretly love to be!