Chopper (Judge Dredd)
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|Publisher||IPC Media (Fleetway) to 1999, thereafter Rebellion Developments|
|First appearance||2000 AD #206|
|Created by||John Wagner |
|Alter ego||Marlon Shakespeare|
Chopper (also known as Marlon Shakespeare) is a fictional character appearing in British comics anthologies 2000 AD and Judge Dredd Megazine. He was created by John Wagner and Ron Smith (with a redesign for his Midnight Surfer persona by Cam Kennedy) and has appeared in numerous Judge Dredd stories, including "Oz", and has his own eponymous series.
The concept and name comes from a fan letter to 2000 AD, which was signed off "From Chopper". Wagner says "there was something about the lad we [him and Grant] liked and we put some of his character into Chopper".
Marlon Shakespeare was a typical Mega-City One teenager, bored, restless, with no future. His father, Bert Shakespeare, believed that his (Bert's) hobby of head-butting eggs into a basket would make him stand out from his peers  whilst Marlon's mother, Ruby, filled her hours by obsessively washing dishes again and again. Marlon wanted more from life than the mundane existence that his parents revelled in so he broke out and found infamy by becoming Chopper - a wall scrawler (graffiti artist), challenging authority by making his mark (a smiley face) in increasingly more ambitious and public locations. Soon Chopper became known as King Scrawler of Mega-City One. That was until a Scrawl War broke out between Chopper and a mysterious rival scrawler known as The Phantom, who challenged Chopper's position as King Scrawler by beating Marlon to some of his more ambitious scrawls and openly mocking Chopper in his scrawl ("Chopper is a Ninco. Signed The Phantom"). The Scrawl War escalated with more and more inventive scrawls turning up and confusing the Judges, culminating with Chopper defacing the relocated white cliffs of Dover in 100 ft letters. This angered The Phantom who then publicly challenged Chopper to scrawl the Statue of Judgement on the following Saturday. When Chopper and The Phantom finally came face to face Chopper was shocked to find that The Phantom was in fact a painting droid. Chopper found himself asking the droid what its motivations for becoming a scrawler were and was just as shocked to learn that they were identical to his own - To escape the monotony of life and to be somebody. The Phantom refused to be taken by the Judges and plunged to its death, leaving Chopper in awe of the similarity of their lives and wondering, as he was being arrested by Judge Dredd, if that was what we all were - robots.
The Midnight Surfer
Several years later Judge Dredd crossed paths with Chopper again while searching for the masked felon known as The Midnight Surfer - A sky-surfer who had evaded the judges with his highly illegal and very dangerous low-flying surfing. While on rehabilitation, Chopper had been given his first opportunity to use a Powerboard and soon realised he had a natural talent for the sport and had become a Powerboard instructor for young kids living in Tommy McArdle Block. Dredd soon discovered that Chopper was actually the Midnight Surfer and had been merely training for the forthcoming Supersurf 7, an illegal Powerboard contest which was to be held on the streets of Mega-City One. Dredd set up 'Spy In The Sky' cameras to track Chopper's movements in the hope that he could find the secret starting location of the contest and thus preventing the race from happening, but Chopper spotted them and outwitted the remote cameras with his skilful and dangerously daring surfing style. When he arrived Chopper found himself surrounded by such surfing legends as Dak Goodvibes, Johnny Cuba and the world champion Yogi Yakamoto, and within an hour was competing against them in a race of suicidal proportions. Tackling set obstacles and avoiding gunfire from the Judges, the surfers sped through the future city, many falling along the way until there were only two men still with a real chance of winning the race - Yogi Yakamoto and Chopper. The final obstacle - surfing in the notorious Manfred Fox tunnel against the flow of high-speed traffic - served as the backdrop of what was later called by many as the single greatest example of surfing ever seen when Yogi Yakamoto fell after being clipped by a large vehicle and was left struggling to his feet as another large vehicle hurtled towards him. Seeing his Idol's imminent demise, Chopper swung his board around and scooped up the injured surfer before once again turning his board against the flow of the traffic and weaved amongst the vehicles, finishing the race with Yakamoto in his arms. The rescue had been in vain though. As Yakamoto lay on the pavement dying he addressed Chopper - "You the best boy...Nobody can do what you do. You...King Surfer..." Again, Chopper was promptly arrested by Dredd, but this time to the entire city chanting his name.
Three years later, the now legalised Supersurf 10 approaches. The previous two Supersurf contests had somewhat ironically been held legally in the Sydney-Melbourne Conurb (The future Australia) with the full backing of the Oz Judges. Hometown boy Jug McKenzie had been champion ever since and, much to the chagrin of Chopper's fans, was fast earning the reputation of the greatest surfer who ever lived. Despite calls from the citizens of Mega-City One for Chopper to be released in time for him to challenge McKenzie on his home turf, Judge Dredd refused to bow to public opinion. The decision was made by Dredd to move Chopper to a maximum-security isolation cube due to concerns that there would be attempts to free the imprisoned champion. During the transfer a mob rushed the Judges and Chopper managed to escape in the commotion. Unsure of where to run to, Chopper called upon his childhood friend Flip Tillis, who, while supplying Chopper with fresh food and clothes, informed the fugitive of the public's desire for Chopper to regain his crown as King Surfer. Figuring Oz was the one place where everybody wanted him to be Chopper set out on his board and began his historic journey over the 'west wall' into the Cursed Earth. His journey was followed by the Mega-City One media as he evaded Cursed Earth mutants and travels to the Mex-Zone, almost losing his life several times on the way. Finally arriving at the Pacific Ocean, Chopper faced the decision to return to imprisonment or to strike out 11,000 kilometres across the Pacific to Oz with the knowledge that he has nowhere near enough power to complete his journey. During a vicious storm in the Pacific his board runs out of power, and as he guides his board to his death Chopper recalls the chanting of Mega-City One following his winning Supersurf 7.
With no confirmed sightings of Chopper since the news that he was heading into a hurricane, Mega-City One mourns the loss of a legend, and an old friend of Chopper's - WipeOut Jones - is sent to represent the city. The news of Chopper's demise is somewhat premature. As his board spirals down towards the stormy sea Chopper spies a lone ship and guides his board towards it. On board Chopper discovers that the only crew member is a paranoid and murderous robot chef called Cookie, who has a penchant for using his crew members as ingredients. Chopper disposes of Cookie after the insane robot tries to put Chopper on the menu. Chopper's board is badly damaged in the scuffle so takes control of the ship and heads to Oz by sea. Having repaired his board, Chopper ditches the ship 40 kilometres from the coast of Oz and completes the journey on his board. He arrives to a hero's welcome, but Dredd attempts to arrest him. The crowds protest but Dredd argues that Chopper cannot race as he missed the qualifying heats. The qualifying Surfers refuse to race unless Chopper is allowed to compete and Dredd is arrested by local Judges as not to cause a riot. The local authorities set Chopper up with a hotel room and donate to him a Bondi Special powerboard to replace his badly damaged Stratos 4 and he sets out to practice for the race with WipeOut Jones. It soon becomes apparent to Chopper that the Bondi Special powerboard doesn't suit his surfing style. On the day of the race WipeOut Jones offers Chopper his Stratos 4 powerboard stating that he (Jones) is merely there to make up the numbers and had no real chance of winning the race. Jug McKenzie taunts Chopper as the pair swap boards, claiming that chopper is clutching at straws.
Immediately before the race Chopper is called to the Surf Marshal's office where he finds Judge Dredd waiting for him. Dredd explains that his arrest was merely a ruse to settle 'other business'. He then informs Chopper "You can race - No promises. But when you cross that line I'll be waiting. You've made fools of us too often, Shakespeare. This time, you try to escape... I'll have to kill you."
What follows is a race of epic proportions. Halfway through disaster strikes when Jug Mckenzie clips Choppers board sending the two favourites crashing out of the race. Seemingly with their chances of winning totally ruined, both Mckenzie and Chopper surf like they never have before and by the time they hit the home stretch they are neck to neck, but McKenzie wins by less than an inch. Chopper is left stunned, in total disbelief that he lost. As Dredd moves in for the arrest, Chopper turns to Jug and congratulates the defending champion, telling him "You're the tops, Jug - Number one." Dredd raises his gun and calls for Chopper's surrender, but Chopper refuses, and slowly surfs away making no attempt at a quick getaway and giving Dredd plenty of opportunity to fire. But Dredd hesitates and is then struck from behind by Jug McKenzie, allowing Chopper to make a getaway into the Radback (Radioactive Outback - the Oz equivalent of the Cursed Earth).
Soul On Fire
A month later and Chopper is living rough in the desert living off kangaroo meat and still bitter about losing Supersurf 10. On a supply run to the city Chopper attempts to re-run the race course, but realises it's pointless. As he sits on his board eating a 'snagger' that was donated to him by the owner of a market, Chopper is approached by a lone surfer who turns out to be Jug McKenzie. McKenzie cleans Chopper up and gives him new clothes and a friendship is struck up between the former rivals, but all Chopper is interested in is a rematch. This time Chopper wins and he returns to the Radback leaving behind him a new friendship and a new love interest - Charlene.
Song of the Surfer
News of Supersurf 11 reached Chopper just before the death of Smokie, a grumpy old aborigine who had taken Chopper under his wing. Before he died Smokie had told Chopper that he should follow his 'songline' and take part in the race. Following Smokie's death Chopper headed towards the City and met up with Jug McKenzie and Charlene and on a flight chartered specifically for the Oz surfers, headed towards Mega-City Two, where the contest was now to be held. Controversy first struck Supersurf 11 when during a parade of the surfers fireworks were set off killing several of the surfers. It was claimed that this was a publicity event by the new sponsors, StigCorp, though the company denied it. The credibility of these denials were weakened when Stig - the head of StigCorp - publicly announced intentions for Supersurf 11; The route was to be littered with snipers and missile launchers and napalm. It was to be more of a bloodbath than a race. Up in arms over this outrage, the surfers refused to race on principle until 16-year-old Sonny Williams from Brit-Cit signed up to the race. Not one to shy away from a challenge, and also because the Jug Mckenzie he'd beaten in a rematch was a Mckenzie past his prime, Chopper signed up too. In the days leading up to race day 39 other surfers entered the contest. On the morning of the race a drunk Jug Mckenzie claimed he was going to race in response to his critics calling him a coward and over the hill. Chopper stopped him by locking him in a cupboard. Before the race Chopper was involved in an altercation with Sonny Williams. Chopper could see the kid was scared so infuriated him as to get the young surfers adrenaline pumping and thus giving him a better chance of getting through the first few yards. Within moments of the race starting a shell burst amongst the pack blowing the head of Dallas Hall (who came third in Supersurf 10) clean off her shoulders and embedding a part of her skull in Chopper's left arm, rendering it dead. As the race went on, the bodies dropped frequently until there were only a handful of surfers left, with Chopper in the lead. As Chopper left one of the final obstacles, he was brutally gunned down from hidden machine gun emplacements. Charlene, who had been watching the race on television, left her hotel to be with her fallen lover's body. Chopper regained consciousness and struggled to his feet making his way to one of the gun emplacements where he attacked one of the gunners and using his machine gun killed the other machine gunner. But his efforts were too late as the gunners had already claimed their third victim - Sonny Williams. The surviving surfers pulled out of the race, but Chopper, knowing that it was too late for him, got back on his board and headed towards the final obstacle - Stig. Chopper approached Stig, who, although blind, was to act as a sniper near the finish line. Curious as to why Chopper wasn't making an effort to avoid his gun, Stig doesn't fire and Chopper throws a grenade which he took off one of the machine gunners, killing Stig and his assistant. Chopper turns his board towards the finish line but he soon succumbs to his wounds and collapses on his board, laying lifeless inches from the finish as Charlene runs to where his board hovers.
Earth Wind and Fire
Chopper survived and retired to the Radback, joining Charlene and Jug in a dropout commune. But StigCorp caught up with him and destroyed the commune, killing WipeOut Jones who was visiting Chopper following his victory in Supersurf 12. Chopper and Jug make an almost suicidal assault on the Oz headquarters of StigCorp which leaves Moke Anderson (a survivor of Supersurf 11) dead.
Many fans were upset when the story Earth Wind and Fire appeared in the first issue of the Judge Dredd Megazine. Many felt that Chopper surviving Supersurf 11 undermined the emotional impact of the finale of the Song Of The Surfer storyline. Especially for such a lacklustre story. Even Garth Ennis, writer of Earth, Wind and Fire, agrees that bringing Chopper back was a bad idea:
Chopper was kicking about at the time. He had been pretty much shot to death in John’s (Wagner) story, Song of the Surfer. There’s no doubt about it, he should have been left there.
The Big Meg
When Jug Mckenzie died, Chopper was brought into touch with Jug's estranged daughter Mercy and her mother, Calista. After Mercy told Chopper about her mother being in trouble Chopper decided to return to Mega-City One for only the second time since he journeyed to Oz. Chopper soon found himself in the centre of a con conducted by Calista and Mercy which brought him face to face once again with his old nemesis, Judge Dredd. As always Chopper ended on top of the situation leaving Calista stewing in her defeat and returned to Oz and his job as a lifeguard.
Twenty Years to Midnight
In Judge Dredd Megazine #302's "Twenty Years to Midnight", set in 2132, Chopper makes a background appearance on a talkshow. The teenagers in this story are unaware of who he is, and view the show as being for adults; the POV character believes Chopper looks tired and lost, looking at footage of "when he used to matter".
In the 2012 film Dredd, Chopper's name, along with his 'smiley' scrawler tag, can be seen painted on a wall on one of the floors of Peach Trees.
He has appeared in numerous strips:
- Judge Dredd
- "Unamerican Graffiti" (by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Ron Smith, in 2000 AD #206-207, 1981)
- "Midnight Surfer" (by John Wagner, Alan Grant and Cam Kennedy, in 2000 AD #424-429, 1986)
- "Oz" (by John Wagner, Alan Grant and various artists, in 2000 AD #545-570, 1987)
- "It's a Dreddful Life" (by Jim Alexander, Robbie Morrison and Colin MacNeil, in Judge Dredd Megazine #2.44-2.45, 1993)
- "Funeral in Mega-City One" (by John Wagner and Colin MacNeil, in Judge Dredd Poster Prog #4, 1994)
- Chopper (collected in Chopper: Surf's Up, tpb, 304 pages, February 2011, ISBN 978-1-907519-27-7):
- "Soul on Fire" (by John Wagner and Colin MacNeil, in 2000 AD #594-597, 1988)
- "Song of the Surfer" (by John Wagner and Colin MacNeil, in 2000 AD #654-665, 1989)
- "Earth, Wind and Fire" (by Garth Ennis and John McCrea, in Judge Dredd Megazine #1.01-1.06, 1990)
- "Dead Man's Twist" (by Garth Ennis and Martin Emond, in Judge Dredd Megazine #2.36, 1993)
- "Supersurf 13" (by Alan McKenzie and John Higgins, 2000 AD #964-971, 1995)
- "The Big Meg" (by John Wagner and Dylan Teague, in 2000 AD #1387-1394, 2004)
- "Wandering Soul" (by David Baillie and Brendan McCarthy, in Judge Dredd Megazine #395–399, 2018)