Compare and Contrast: Top 10, old and new

In comics circles, Alan Moore is as well known for his distinctive physical appearance as for the books he has written. Even before he decided to become a 10th level magic-user, Moore was cultivating the look of a wizard. By now, his flowing beard is so majestic it makes Gandalf the Grey look like a 13 year-old who forgot to shave for a couple of days.

But if Moore’s beard is big, his feet are simply enormous. They must be; just look what happens when other writers try to fill his shoes. For instance, the joyless spectacle of all those super-hero books that ape the superficial realism of Watchmen, Marvelman and The Killing Joke. Or the lousy film adaptations of V for Vendetta, From Hell and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

So the creators of Top 10: Beyond the farthest precinct, a 5-issue series collected in this volume, had a tough act to follow.

The original Top 10 series (1999-2001) was Moore’s attempt at writing a super-hero team book, modelled on tv cop shows like NYPD Blue. Literally modelled–the characters were all cops, and the plot a sort of police procedural. And formally modelled–the expansive cast was a true ensemble, with every character given their moment in the spotlight, via concurrently running plots and subplots.

Oh, and the cops all had super-powers. And so did the criminals. And so did everyone else in Neopolis, where the book took place.

The result was one of the most fun books Moore has written. Insanely detailed art from Gene Ha and Zander Cannon only added to the book’s unpretentious, cartoony joy. Ha thoroughly sold the reality of Neopolis, while cramming every panel with visual puns and easter eggs. If it was tough to follow Moore’s scripts, it was just as hard for anyone to follow Ha’s and Cannon’s art.

So the question is: how do the new creators compare? The answer is disappointing, but unsurprising. Their efforts don’t live up to the original, but they’re an entertaining enough diversion in their own right.

First, the script. Science fiction author Di Filippo does a respectable job without blowing anyone’s mind. He doesn’t have the luxury of the original twelve issues, and he already has an established cast and setting. So Beyond the farthest precinct is a dense read, re-introducing the original cast and setting, while wedging in a few new characters and neighbourhoods.

The plot is basically driven by one main story, involving a terrible apparition that appears over the city, and the police investigation that results. It’s never quite explained why people would freak out over one measly apparition–given that everyone in the city has super-powers–so the investigation never really feels that urgent. Part of the problem is that the apparition itself is badly designed, a cyborg skeleton with a hoodie and visor, more lame than menacing. But that might well be the point. For, around this macguffin, Di Filippo builds a story of official over-reaction and political subversion, with fairly obvious implications for the contemporary USA.

In any case, he acquits himself pretty well with the script, given how unwieldy such a large cast is. There’s a fair amount of entertainment, suspense and comedy for the reader. The only other real mis-step in the script comes in the denouement, which relies too heavily on two dei ex machina from the first series. First one character shows up for some info-dump, and then another old character is revealed as the face behind the apparition. The choice of characters will seem gratuitous to fans of the original, and probably puzzle new readers.

As for the art, Jerry Ordway is a natural for this sort of eyeball soup, with its cast of thousands and throwaway gags. Ordway cut his teeth on densely-populated team books like All-Star Squadron and that paragon of Where’s Wally cross-overs, Crisis on Infinite Earths. So Ordway can handle the demands of the art in a book like this.

At the same time, he gives the book his own distinctive visual stamp. Ordway’s line is thicker than Ha’s, especially when he’s inking himself as he does here. And, as usual, Ordway lays on the hatching to give depth and definition to his figures. In consequence, his characters are heavier and more solid than Ha’s. By contrast, his backgrounds are much less finished, and his figures generally less finely detailed. The art looks at once more real and less real than in the original series.

Finally, the easter eggs are still a main attraction. Among them: Funky Flashman selling real estate agent. The Question and Spider Jerusalem as political activists. Granny Goodness running Danvers Orphanage, looking after wards like Sluggo and Nancy and Sugar and Spice. Freddy Lombard and Tintin sharing a drink at the “Clean Line Cafe”, while three generations of DC’s Manhunters bicker nearby. Maggie and Hopey fixing squad cars in the precinct garage. And so on and so on and so on. The eagle-eyed Jess Nevins has an exhaustive list here. Ifyou got the references in this paragraph, you’ll probably enjoy the book for the allusions, gags and visual pans alone.

Recommended: For fans of the original who want more of the same, only less so. If you haven’t read the original, I’d recommend starting there first.

IYL: Ensemble police procedurals like NYPD Blue or The Wire, or ensemble books like Legion of Super-heroes

The skinny: Top 10: Beyond the farthest precinct, Paul Di Filippo, Jerry Ordway, Wendy Broome, Jeromy Cox, Johnny Rench with Randy Mayor, and Todd Klein. Wildstorm/DC, 2006. $14.99, 128 pages.


7 Responses to “Compare and Contrast: Top 10, old and new”

  1. Jog Says:

    This was one of the better non-Moore ABC projects, damning with faint praise as that may be; I probably liked Rick Veitch’s Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset a little better, although there’s no denying that Veitch had a much easier road to plow, what with the Greyshirt character being a barely-present vessel for Eisner homage in the first place. I always thought the horrid apparition bore a certain resemblance to RanXerox, which makes a little sense – most Ranx stories never really go anywhere, and then stop abruptly, much like the ‘main’ plot here.

    I also liked the first Terra Obscura book (which Moore plotted himself but didn’t script), though I’ve got this damn fool notion in my head that the whole thing’s an elaborate simulation of an earth-shaking, nothing-will-be-the-same Event miniseries, complete with fleeting character cameos and little motivation gaps that would normally be filled by one of seven thousand tie-in issues of ongoing titles. Probably as good a construct as any to reintroduce a billion and one forgotten characters from to and fro. Too bad the ending kind of peters out, and the second book was chock-full of the sort of Superman/Batman archetype analysis that Moore can probably do in his sleep at this point…

  2. Jones, one of the Jones boys Says:

    I was going to ask “RanXerox who?”. But thanks to the power of wikipedia, no one will ever know my secret ignorance. Interesting theory, in any case.

    Veitch’s Greyshirt book is, for mine, easily the best non-Moore ABC project and much better than the Top 10 follow-up (although, as you say, easier road to plow and all that). It’s a seriously underrated mix of Eisner pastiche, formal experimentation, and typical Veitch weirdness. But Veitch has already proved able to follow Moore without losing his dignity–cf. his run on Swamp Thing.

    As for Terra Obscura, it is the one of Moore’s better attempts at company-wide crossover. Definitely better than Judgement Day (ugh), Fire From Heaven (double-ugh) and the thrice-removed, but still in some way a descendant, Kingdom Come. Although we can always dream that Moore’s Twilight would have been much better had he actually, you know, had anything to do with it.

  3. Bill Burns Says:

    I bailed out of DiFilippo’s Top Ten at the point in the second issue where he decided that since Peregrine was an evangelical Christian, she would naturally be a fascist. It may have gotten better after that, but I just didn’t want to see him trash any more of Moore’s characters. I heard a while ago that Cannon and Ha were going to do more Top Ten.

    Greyshirt: Indigo Sunset, on the other hand, rules.

  4. Matt Brady Says:

    I was actually pretty disappointed in Beyond the Farthest Precinct, but mostly because it seemed like DiFilippo was trying his damnedest to do a Moore impression and just wasn’t up to the task. Bill mentions his problems with characterization; I would add that I was bothered by Dust Devil, who Moore had complaining about Shock-Headed Peter’s bigotry toward robots, acting as the same sort of bigot towards insectoid creatures. I like DiFilippo as a SF author, and his Fuzzy Dice is incredible. However, I read that book just before Precinct, and he seemed to be recycling the “multiverse” concepts that he used so well in Dice.

    Luckily, I didn’t pay much for this series, picking it up in the 50 cent bin at my LCS. I also found Indigo Sunset in the same fashion, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I do really like Rick Veitch, so I’m looking forward to it.

  5. Jones, one of the Jones boys Says:

    Yeah, that Dust Devil bigotry was well out of character. Moore’s Dust Devil was so damned charming, and a good progressive too.

  6. The month in review « Let’s you and him fight Says:

    […] Top 10: Beyond the farthest precinct […]

  7. BymnEnami Says:

    Where I can find good quality films?
    Can anyone help me?

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