Dec 15, 2010

Gateway Comics: TOP TEN by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon

If you want to buy your friends a comic book for Christmas, there's one comic I can always recommend.

In all my years of reading comics, I've tried getting friends and acquaintances alike to at least appreciate the medium I love so much. And there are some comics that just don't work as gateway comics — they're too entrenched in history, they fail to blow the reader away, they don't really show anything special right off the bat, or whatever other reason — but there is one comic I've found has always worked and has always amused people, entertained them, given them a good story, and made them want to read more.

That comic? TOP 10 by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, and Zander Cannon.

The concept of TOP 10is very simple, and provides the hook right off the bat. TOP 10 focuses on Precinct 10, the police precinct in a city called Neopolis, where everyone has superpowers.

Moore's inspiration for the series was the TV show NYPD Blue, and I think it's particularly inspired to make everyone a superbeing in the city because it prevented the cops of Precinct 10 to function as really just another superteam. This way, it's their personalities that shine, not their powers.

So it's actually structured a lot like a cop TV show, where certain characters exit a scene at the same time others enter. It's episodic, with running subplots but also with full stories in each issue. And there's a wonderful balance of seriousness and humor, as we try to examine what living in this city would really be like. As you can imagine, it leads to a lot of absurdity, and even if it's serious on the page, we the reader can laugh at it.

For example, the racial minority in Neopolis are Ferro-Americans, or robots. The derogatory term for them is "clickers." They have "scrap" music instead of rap music, where their "homes" are "ohms." And when Joe Pi, Ferro-American, has to deal with bigoted Shock-Headed Peter, hilarity ensues.

There really isn't a main character in the book, and it's all about the group dynamics of the characters and the actual short stories they get caught into. And they're doozies.

For example, they have to deal with a murder at the Godz bar. The case? The death of Baldur, setting the mythological tale in a modern cop setting.

They have to deal with their version of a car collision: a teleporter collision. (In addition, this is one of the most touching 22 pages I've ever read.)

Dust Devil's mom has a vermin problem, but of course, in Neopolis, the mice are superpowered. See if you can spot Mighty Mouse and Danger Mouse.

And in terms of the art, Gene Ha and Zander Cannon kill it. I've said that it reads like a TV show, and that's good for fans unaccustomed to the comics medium, but it does utilize exactly one technique that only comics can fully utilize: packing a panel, as Harvey Kurtzman did. And in a city full of superheroes, you can just imagine, there are a lot of inside jokes and Easter eggs. In fact, they were there from the first panel of the first issue

From ads about Wolverine's healing factor to Superman's phone booth changes, the first page of TOP 10 is already visually stunning. Add to that some renditions of some familiar characters, changed to fit the world of TOP 10 (and to avoid copyright infringement problems). From the aforementioned Mighty Mouse:

To Spaceman Spiff, from CALVIN AND HOBBES:

To just about every Roman-themed character you can find, from Asterix to Marvin the Martian:

Hell, even to the Hamburglar:

Well, I'm not going to show you everything! Part of the fun is finding them!

TOP 10 was popular enough even with a minimal amount of advertising that they were able to put out a four spin-off series. The two that were written by Moore are SMAX, illustrated by Zander Cannon:

And THE 49ERS, illustrated by Gene Ha:

SMAX is a more hilarious tale, and Cannon's cartoony style fits it nicely. It involves two of Precinct 10 returning to one of their homeworlds, which is a fantasy adventureland. So instead of getting superheroes in the background, we get things like trolls and white rabbits. Here's two trolls dealing drugs.

THE 49ERS is more serious, and Ha's wash-tone artwork suits it, as it details the origins of Neopolis. Just to sell you, spot Bluto.

I would completely avoid the spin-offs not written by Moore. TOP 10: BEYOND THE FARTHEST PRECINCT by Paul DiFilippo and Jerry Ordway just falls flat and doesn't feel organic, while TOP TEN SEASON TWO, by Zander Cannon and Gene Ha was ridiculously shortchanged by DC in that it seems we will never see it come to an end.

Having said that, I wouldn't give any of these books to a kid under the age of 14, so buy at your own risk. If you ARE over the age of 14, then buy it now, I say!


Peachy said...

Plus, Top Ten -- with all its Easter eggs -- forces you to look beyond the obvious art and the words on the dialogue balloon. As someone who's used to dealing with just pure text, I thought Top Ten gave me a good lesson at slowing down from panel to panel and seeing more than the main figures.

And the stories are awesome. :D And Smax is hilarious!!!

Duy Tano said...

D'oh! There's a good point I should have put in that would really emphasize the book's excellence as a gateway comic!

Very few comics have made me laugh out loud like SMAX has.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the recommend. i was able to get topten vol 1 and SMAX spinoff this week. unfortunately vol 2 and 49ers is out of stock.had to reorder it.

good read and art.

thanks danry

Duy Tano said...

Glad you picked it up, Danry! Though be sure to not read SMAX before you read TOP TEN BOOK TWO. It won't spoil a whole awful lot, but it will spoil some stuff.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year too Duy!

Thanks a lot.


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