[Guest review by Doug Glassman]
When I say "Alan Moore," a few titles might jump to mind. The Killing Joke. Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Watchmen, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. While these are all brilliant books that belong in the libraries of every comic book reader, I'm here to talk about a slightly lesser-known work that may just be Moore's best: Top Ten, from America's Best Comics.
(This review is for the original twelve issues of Top 10, collected in two trades. There's also a graphic novel, The Forty-Niners, and two follow-up mini-series, Smax and Beyond the Farthest Precinct. Alan Moore wrote all but the last, which was written by Paul DiFilippo. They're all worth getting, in my opinion, but this original series is most certainly the best. I also suggest that you get both trades, since the twelve original issues tell a full story.)
Top 10 is a brilliant fusion of the police procedural and the superhero team. It takes place in a world extrapolated from the pulp heroes of the 1940s, with "science" added generously in front of other words. All of the "science heroes" live in their own secluded city, Neopolis, and a city filled with superhuman threats requires a police force that is also superhuman. Enter Precinct 10, led by the '40s hero, Jetman. Immediately you'll be hit by references to everything from Blackhawk to Mazinger Z, and that's the real fun of the series. Every background character, advertisement, shot of graffiti, and song lyric is a pun on superheroes and other pop adventure icons.
The song lyrics are especially great. Like on NYPD Blue, there are montages where the characters drive to missions with no dialogue, only music. This is a risky in a print medium, but Moore pulls it off thanks to great timing. Lots of the other references, especially the ads and graffiti, are very tiny. I recommend Jess Nevins' annotations to find all of the jokes.
One of my favorite gags takes up nearly an entire page in volume 2 and involves a travel hub across dimensions. A poster reads "Vacation on Infinite Earths" and features Firestorm, Pariah, and the second Blue Beetle in a conga line. Bat-Mite, Lola from Run Lola Run, the Mirror Universe Spock, and Death and Dream of the Endless are all on the same page. It has to be seen to be believed. If that doesn't sell you on this series, I honestly don't know what will.
But there's much more to Top 10 than just the in-jokes. All of the characters have their own quirks. Jetman, for instance, hides a massive secret while maintaining a fatherly relationship with his workers. The main character, Robin "Toybox" Slinger, is the rookie daughter of one of the original Precinct 10 founders. Her partner is the giant, gruff anti-hero Smax, sort of a mix of the Beast and Wolverine. Shock-Headed Peter hates robots, which puts him in conflict with the many robotic members of Neopolis society. These are only a few of the quirky officers. One of the greatest, Joe Pi, is a true Japanese super robot in the vein of Go Nagai, and while he enters the story very late, almost everything he does is hysterical.
Just like the cop procedurals it is based on, Top 10 has characters that enter and leave permanently, with great consequences. At first, there doesn't seem to be a main plotline for the twelve issues, but one emerges by the last issue. Plots weave in and out and sometimes collide violently. A few great sub-stories include a teleporter accident involving a giant alien and a Hovercar; solving a crime based on an ancient Norse myth; and the only Yazidi superhero's forced career as a gladiator. The art is split between Zander Cannon doing the layouts and Gene Ha doing the finishes. As required by all of the sight gags, Cannon and Ha's art is very detailed, but at the same time has a unique "scratchiness" to it.
Whether it's for the great action and humor, or for the continual sight gags that pay homage to decades of comic book history, Top 10 is worth your time. Each story can be read individually, or you can read them all together to create an epic superhero story that will forever change the way you think about the Justice League. In a way, it's a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen for superheroes, bringing together the best of comics instead of the best of Victorian pulp literature. The series deserves a place on your shelf.
[$17.95 cover price for Book One, $14.95 for Book Two. Book One includes a text prologue by Alan Moore, full covers and character design gallery. Book Two includes character sketches and full covers.]