Tripwire Reviews Chopper: Wandering Spirit

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Chopper: Wandering Spirit
Writers: David Baillie, Rob Williams, Al Ewing, Tom Eglington
Artist: Brendan McCarthy
Colours: Len O’Grady, Dom Regan
Letters: Ellie De Ville, Annie Parkhouse

Brendan McCarthy’s contributions to 2000AD started in the comic’s early days, peaked in the early 1990s, and stopped when the artist moved on to other things, not least the co-writing of Mad Max: Fury Road. In 2010 he came back, via a Judge Dredd story written by Al Ewing about an elderly white-haired time traveller crossing the eons in a small blue box – he’s called Doctor Watt and the box is a portaloo – and since then McCarthy has drawn a handful of Dredd-world stories, now collected in this new volume. It’s a concentrated dose of the artist’s exuberant, colour-charged, idiosyncratic art, developed a little from his old style but still working on visual levels most 2000AD art doesn’t tackle, and might not match if it cared to try.

The main item here is the most recent one, a 2018 Megazine arc written by David Baillie that continues the story of Marlon “Chopper’ Shakespeare, once a disaffected thrill-seeking teenager in Mega-City One, now living a quieter middle-age in Australia’s irradiated Outback, where the younger generation think of him as a weird old dude. Nanocloud technology from the past and the spirits of Aboriginal Dreamtime from a much older past meet, in a story that’s really about tradition and love. Neither Judges nor surfers know when their last day will arrive, and Chopper might just be having his right now; but it’s ancient Aboriginal animism that rules in the Radback.

Doctor Watt has nanocloud issues too, although the story is a zanier brand of mad science, as is the Rob Williams Megazine tale called The Walking Dredd where Dredd becomes infected with a zombie virus. McCarthy’s most recent work in 2000AD itself rounds off this book, a 2017 two-partner written by TC Eglington without much mad science or high weirdness, but instead some mild politics about well-connected rich kids who think the rules don’t apply.

It’s unfair to leave the writers out of the discussion whenever McCarthy draws a story – Baillie’s Chopper tale neatly ties past and present together in a way that only characters who have been around for decades of real time can allow – but the artist brings so much of his own tastes to each work that the essential atmosphere of all the stories is, inevitably, coming from him. Dredd’s world might be a bit limiting compared to McCarthy’s wilder flights of imagination for strips that had more freedom to disturb, and the art here can’t match the chromatic blast and psychological energies of Dream Gang, which he wrote and drew for Dark Horse in 2014, where the visuals feel so fluid that the paper seems to be barely containing the artwork. But on Dredd as everywhere else, McCarthy uses colour in a way few artists do, as a tool for surprise and drama, one that’s under his control just as much as the perspective and framing of the panels. His version of Judge Dredd’s world still seems to be wired more vividly than almost anyone else’s, as it always has.

Chopper Wandering Spirit review www.tripwiremagazine.co.uk

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