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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

2013 overview: Top 10 volumes 1 and 2

Writer: Alan Moore
Pencils: Gene Ha
Layouts: Zander Cannon
Colours: Alex Sinclair
Inks: Gene Ha
Letters: Todd Klein
Publisher: America's Best Comics

What's it about?
Top 10 is a cop drama set in a world where everyone has superpowers. I mean everyone.  Kids, pensioners, parents, pets.  The series focuses on the city of Neopolis' police force.  Everyone has a codename, a regular name, and a costume.  People use their powers to travel around, to do their daily job, to meet people, to eat, to do all the normal everyday stuff we do.  The police force operates in the same way real world police do but with laws that specifically reference super powers.

What's good about it?
Longtime readers might know of my aversion to detective stories.  It's not a genre I am keen on, although there are a few I have taken to.  Top 10 is one of those.  One of the things I love about it is that it's about the people more than the procedure.  The stories are less about finding out whodunnit - although clearly that is part of the stories - and more about how the characters live and work together.
There's a wide range of personalities, and probably a few cop archetypes too - and a wide range of powers.  Some of these powers help people solve crime, and some get in the way.  All are presented as absolutely normal - as, in the world of this book, they are.  One of the cops is a humanoid dog.  Another has synaesthesia.  One is highly religious.  One can shrink. One is telepathic.  One of them is gay with chameleonic powers - and no, she doesn't use them to hide from sight, and she doesn't have a coming out narrative.  There's a mix of ethnicities.

One of the most memorable arcs within the series, for me, is the one where there's an air traffic accident.  Three of four teleporters emerge into the same space and are fused together.  The police deal with this in a couple of ways. Firstly they try and work out what happened and who was at fault.  Secondly they try to comfort the dying teleporters.  The accident reads as mundane as our road traffic accidents, and as moving and human as when you hear about your friend having a car crash.  The officer's frustration at having to deal with traumatised victims and the stupidity of those who flout transport rules feels very real.

Another subplot has one of the officer's mother's apartment infested with mice.  Not your ordinary rodents, these are larger than normal, intelligent, and superpowered.  Over the course of several issues we revisit the apartment and the exterminator hired to remove them.  We discover that factions of the rodents have teamed up and created a "Whole Secret Crisis-War Crossover Thing" which eventually rewrites the time line so the Ultra-Mouse infestation never happened.  If you are familiar with the DC and Marvel universes you will recognise this as a reference to several multi issue crossovers.  These crossovers tend towards the epic and, yes, sometimes they are a bit silly.  But they are fun.  There are lots of these sorts of references and homages to well known heroes and villains in the series.
(Apologies for the bad image quality - I couldn't find a scan online so this picture is taken with my phone)

Another memorable subplot I'll talk about is one to do with King Peacock.  He gets sent to investigate a lead on a parallel (very racist) earth, and ends up battling in a gladiator style arena.  While Peacock is a respected officer back home at Neopolis, on this new earth he's treated abysmally and given no respect, because he's black.  It is a racism story done well and it doesn't denigrate or sanctify King Peacock.

Oh, heck. Pretty much every issue has something great in it and they are all memorable.

What's bad about it?
There are lots of skimpy costumes, often on the women.  This can be read as commentary on and reflective of mainstream superhero comics, but I'm not sure that excuses it.  On the other hand, the women aren't posed suggestively and the costumes don't get in the way of their jobs.  By that I mean that you don't read the book and wonder why she hadn't been killed in such a threadbare costume.  On the whole, the costumes make sense for the characters.  There are a mix of costume choices for the women (lots of them are properly clothed) and, unlike regular superhero comics, sex does actually exist within Top 10.  Several minor characters are sex workers and their powers aid them in their job.  It's nice to see this acknowledged, as it often isn't.  The only other example I can think of is Garth Ennis' and Amanda Connor's The Pro, which is highly recommended.

What's the art like?
The art is incredibly detailed.  There's a lot going on in the panels, both in terms of telling the story and in terms of including those references to other heroes and villains.  However, the art never feels busy or overcrowded.  The main story is the focus of each panel and the background information serves as worldbuilding and visual treats for eagle-eyed readers.  The more you read this book the more you'll get out of it.

Everybody has different builds and body language.  The characters never look interchangeable.  I don't find the style of art, as in the way faces or action scenes are drawn, particularly new or interesting, but the overall composition of the pages and the design of the characters are what make it special.

More Information
Volume 1 price: Available second hand from about £14.
Volume 1 ISBN: 1840232757
Volume 2 price: Available second hand from about £14.
Volume 2 ISBN: 1563899663

Alan Moore is considered one of the great comic writers.  He has done a lot of brilliant stuff: we've covered Promethea and The Ballad of Halo Jones.  Another series you might want to check out is his Swamp Thing run and DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore.  Be warned - the DC Universe book does have a particularly distasteful and sexist Joker/Batgirl story in it.

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