Friday, 13 January 2012

Books: Top 10


Top 10
Book One
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

Top 10
Book Two
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon


Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

The best place to start would be just to pick up Book 1 and read it. Those first two pages - with the overheard conversations that we've all heard a million times before just ever-so lightly dressed up with a touch of the strange (" see-through capes with the prism effect?") and then that picture of the train going across the bridge. I mean: I think the first time I read it - what was the point that I was in and totally sold and be ready to be taken wherever it was that the book decided to take me. I mean: even rereading it for like - what - the tenth time? It just makes you feel like you're on the cusp of something cool. What's that line from the Lord of the Rings film? "If I take one more step, it'll be the farthest away from home I've ever been." Starting Top 10 makes me feel like that - that I'm just about to take a trip to a alien world and have (several) awfully exciting adventures.

But - ok: before you start then - some background: At the end of the 20th Century Alan Moore launched four brand new comic series under the America's Best Comics (ABC) imprint: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea, Tom Strong and Top 10. Although they all started simply enough with a kinda simple: "hey kids! Look - comics! Wooo!" attitude (with Moore reportedly wanting to undo some of the damage that he felt Watchmen and it's ilk caused the comic book industry - where every superhero was an alcoholic burnout and the female characters weren't fully developed unless they'd suffered somekind of a sexual assault) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ("TLOEG" hereafter) and Promethea both outgrew their simple bubblegum premises and ended up mutating into mediations on - well: life, the universe and everything plus: the entirety of humankind's imaginative landscape (but - hey - you know: with Alan Moore in the mix people should have probably should have guessed that kinda thing would happen: the guy doesn't like to do things by half and (this is why I love him so): he can be a bit of a show-off with a persistent "look what I can do!" attitude to pretty much everything he writes...

Of course with all the attention that ended up being showered on TLOEG and Promethea - Tom Strong and Top 10 ended up being overcast a little and nowsdays it can be a little difficult finding anything written by anyone on them... (I mean "Top 10" isn't the easiest thing to google - but still... [1]). I mean: I guess it makes sense - there's lots to say about TLOEG and Promethea in terms of intellectual content and all the rest of it - and they're books that you would have no problem dropping into conversation amongst a bunch of clever people at a dinner party ("Yeah - it's actually a detailed treatise about the idea of magic and features one of the more elegant explications of Kabbalah I've ever read (that's kinda like the map of our spiritual universe if you didn't know)...") while Top 10 is pretty much nothing but pure pulp fun from beginning to end and so doesn't lead itself quite so much to making the person praising it sound smart ("Erm - yeah: Imagine Hill Street Blues where everyone (the cops, the criminals, the citizens) are superheroes (or "science-heroes" as Alan Moore likes to call 'em) and you're pretty much there." [2]). But then imagine a world where nobody had ever seen a Star Wars film and then try to imagine how you would explain it to people: I mean - however you did it [3] - I'm guessing that after facing a sea of confused looking faces you would just end up resorting to exclaiming: "Look - it's just really great fun - yeah? And you should just all watch it." Well: that's how I feel about Top 10. I don't care how dumb you might think it sounds (and I will admit that it does sound a little dumb): just shut up and read it ok? It's by Alan Moore ok? (And come on - this is a guy who's basically made it his life's mission to show comic fans a great time...) Plus: you know - the art's really great. What more could you possibly need to know?

Like (I think?) all his ABC books it starts off with a big fat two-page slab of text (actually maybe TLOEG doesn't have that? But I'd have to check...): "Powers of Arrest: Precinct Ten and Social Super-Vision." Reading it isn't necessary to enjoy the rest of the book but it will set up nicely for what to expect ("Once described as a "strontium wedding cake," Neopolis as it is now brings to mind more a four-story carpark designed by a varied committee that including Ray Bradbury, Fritz Lang and Zeus.") as well as filling you with enough background detail to help you make sense of what to expect - as well as getting in a nice little dig on the proliferation of superheroes in the worlds of Marvel and DC [4]: "...with too few jobs to offer the hordes of science-champions, who were therefore forced to seek employment in less glamorous professions." [5] Oh: and not forgetting the important fact that it's also pretty funny ("You got stung by a normal bee? It wasn't even radioactive? What the hell is wrong with you?").

As I said Alan Moore sure likes showing off how smart he can be - and the evidence of that is splattered over every single background detail, plot-line and location of Top 10: only instead of trying to unpick the mysteries of existence (or whatever): his only aim is to entertain you (the lucky reader) as much as possible. I mean - to take just one tiny example: he names a superhero nightclub: "Chemicals & Lightning" because - obviously - that's the perfect name for a superhero nightclub (I would explain the reasons why - but it feel like that would dilute the joke - but you get it right?) [6]. Also one of the big funs from reading Top 10 is the massive cast of characters - you don't normally get such large ensembles in comics mainly because (I guess) it can be hard to bring people to life when all you have is the art and a few lines of dialogue for each person: proper literature non-picture books are easier because you've got more space to get to know someone - and TV takes some of the strain off because you have actors doing a lot of the leg-work for you: the only real exception in comics I guess is the big team up books like the Avengers and the Justice league: but there some of the strain is taken off because - well - everyone knows who Batman is. Which makes the work Alan Moore pulls off in Top 10 seem even more remarkable: he basically invents a whole police department (according to wikipedia there's twenty-one police officers alone: and that's before you get to the random citizens they encounter) and then makes every one of them feel fully formed and - well - like real people [7].

But yeah - Dealing with typical police drama issues (and it's no shy of dealing with some pretty hardcore subjects [8] - so don't think that it's all jolly fun and games ok?) but (mostly) with sortsort of science-fiction twist it's based around the lives of the assorted police officers (at one point memorably described as: "dogs, lesbians and devil worshippers" - but hey - just so you know: they also have their bad points too) at the 10th Precinct Police Station of the futuristic city of Neopolis. Overloaded with superhero references [9] and easter eggs hidden in all the corners of the almost deliriously busy artwork by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon (I mean - even the first panel of the first book has enough jokes and ideas to keep most other comic going for (I dunno) a whole year or so: "Logan's DNA dietary supplement. With extra adamantium!" "Injured? Call...Legion of Super-Lawyers") it also (yes) provides the all entertainment any good cop show needs - office politics, romantic entanglements ("So what did she say about me? She told you we went out together right?") and lots of messed-up cases (taking in both the high (serial killers and Deicide [10]) and the low (you know: traffic accidents and stuff like that...)): I mean - ok - maybe it might not live on much in your head after you put it down but while you're inside and breathing it in - it's frothy and diverting and loads and loads and loads of fun. You know: like any other cop / police procedural show (only this one has more brightly-coloured capes).

Oh and (in case you weren't aware): there are two spin-offs also by Alan Moore called Smax and Top 10: The Forty-Niners (a prequel) which should also be checked out for all of those who enjoyed Top 10 as much as I do.

[1] Although it does tend to appear in a few of "Best of Alan Moore" lists (including: io9's 10 Alan Moore Comics You Must Read! (Besides Watchmen) but then I guess if you google "Top 10 Alan Moore" then Top 10 lists of Alan Moore stories are the kinda thing that are gonna appear...

[2] Oh - and didn't realise this myself but reading the TV Tropes page apparently a lot of the Top 10 characters are dead-ringers (or "Expies") for people in Hill Street Blues (so if you've ever watched Hill Street Blues then maybe this will mean something to you (I'll admit I've never seen it - so it's pretty much lost on me): Captain Traynor is Captain Furillo Sgt. Kemlo Caesar is Sgt. Esterhaus King Peacock is Neal Washington Duane Bodine is Mick Belker Bill Bailey is Howard Hunter Irma Geddon and Girl One are Andy Renko and Bobby Hill Ernesto Gograh is Jesus Martinez)

[3] See: Star Wars: Retold (by someone that's never seen it): "The Planet's really bad now because of the Dark Side."

[4] Check out Mark Waid and Alex Ross' Kingdom Come for a much more po-faced take on the same idea... (I mean I've nothing against Kingdom Come - but it's nowhere near as lively and well - fun - as Top 10 is...)

[5] Although this reader really wants to know: did he start with the idea of a superhero (sorry - science-hero) police unit and work backwards from there or did he start with the idea of what would happen if there were too many people in the world with superpowers and then build upwards from that? Both seem equally plausible...

[6] And the plotting is mega-tight too. I mean - the first time you read it it might just seem like a bunch of chaotic running around but like they say here (someone thought it would be a good exercise to unpick all the plot strands running around the book): "I remembered that the plot of Top 10 was fairly dense, but the number of subplots introduced in the first few pages was still amazing. In pages 6 through 9 of issue #1, Moore mentions seven different plot threads, and every one of those threads had at least a panel or two of additional reference in the first issue (listed as "partials," if less than a page). Even the "Ghostly Goose on the loose" story gets panels on pages 6, 25, and 28 of issue #1 and reappears in issues #2, 3, and 5." (And that doesn't even get to all the graceful non-plot related moments like that one panel where Robyn walks past Shock-headed Pete leaning up against the Red K drinks machine: it doesn't really add that much really to the plot (other than: "Shock-headed Pete is sad") but - well - it's just a great little - I dunno - "comics moment."

[7] The only other example I can think of that manages to pull off the same trick is J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston's The Twelve (which I'm a pretty big fan of - so yeah).  

[8] Another selection from the introduction: "See, what it is, this ain't just your everyday three-girls-and-a-donkey-and-a-dwarf-stuff. That you can get in New York. Here in Neopolis, the seasoned porn-junkie has what we might call a boarder smorgasbord of deviance to choose from. You got all the stretchy rubber people, all of the size-shifters, all the robots."

[9] There's even an inadvertent reference with The Incredibles - (the Brad Bird-directed Pixar film didn't come out until 2004: a good few years after the last issue was published...).

[10] No - that's not some sorta strange misspelling of "decide". It's Deicide: the killing of a God.

Links: Comics Cube Article, Tor Article: The Great Alan Moore Reread: Top 10, Part One / Part TwoTopless Robot Article: The Top 20 Nods, Cameos and Easter Eggs in Alan Moore's Top 10 Comics, The Brutal Circle Article: Deconstructing Alan Moore - Plotting in Top 10Jess Nevins Top 10 Annotations #1 / #2 / #3 / #4 / #5 / #6 / #7 / #8 / #9 / #10 / #11 / #12 .

Further reading: Top 10: The Forty-NinersSmax, Powers, Tom Strong, Gotham Central, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary GentlemenD.R. and QuinchSupreme, Astro City, DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, Kingdom Come, The Twelve.

Profiles: Alan Moore.

All comments welcome.

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