Review by Karl Verhoven
Cam Kennedy wasn’t the first artist to draw Marlon ‘Chopper’ Shakespeare, but his graceful scenes of Chopper gliding along in the sky with Mega-City One as a backdrop surely cemented the character’s potential. John Wagner began using him again, evolving a more unusual personality with a defined ethical outlook and a competitive spirit. For the earliest stories see Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 04, 09 and 11. This bulky collection picks up after he’s been in the Radlands of Oz for a while, and with Chopper promoted to the star of a strip rather than Judge Dredd’s target.
Over the first couple of stories Wagner supplies Chopper’s intensity to such a degree you’ll almost believe Skysurfing is a genuine sport, first in black and white, then in colour. The black and white is more effective from both creators, MacNeil working well with shadows and light, and giving Chopper a haunted look, as Wagner recasts him as the traditional Western loner in a showdown. Wagner then adds new twists to another Supersurf story, the violent surprises to the competition ramped up to increase the chances of death. “Snipers on the slipway? Is it legal? Is it decent? Is it sport”, asks an inane TV commentator, concluding “I don’t know about the last two, but the answer to the first question is yes”. The bonding between competitors is a nice touch, as is Chopper recognising he’s now older. However, the additional chance of death creates a short term suspense, but the splatterfest it develops into has the long term effect of diminishing the powerful ending. A later brief creative reunion of Wagner and MacNeil in colour is slim, but makes an appropriate point.
Despite reservations and ‘Song of the Surfer’ being overlong at twelve chapters, it shines compares to much of what follows. Wagner presumably had a definitive ending in mind, but Garth Ennis picks up with Chopper and Charlene happy in a small Australian outback community, and early in his and John McCrea’s careers their story of corporate villainy is too obvious. A second Ennis story is a slight improvement, presenting a long dark night of the soul. It seems at first as if Martin Emond is the wrong artist, being far too stylised, but Ennis takes the script into a direction ideally suited to Emond’s vivid exaggeration.
John Higgins (sample art right) draws a nice Chopper, but Alan McKenzie’s story of him being co-opted into another Supersurf doesn’t hang together well. Workable ideas are eventually lost in what eventually becomes an amalgam of several John Wagner and Alan Grant past glories, but without their wit.
Thankfully Wagner and Patrick Goddard are on hand with a touching and unpredictable closer about Chopper having to return to Mega-City where he knows he’ll be arrested on sight due to skysurfing crimes committed a long time back. Goddard is expansive, and Wagner keeps the tension high and the twists coming, meaning his opening and closing strips are the best in a collection that isn’t as good as we’d have wanted it to be, and would have benefited by being expanded by not many pages to include as least Kennedy’s first Skysurf strip.