Archive for the ‘10th level magic-users’ Category

Compare and Contrast: Top 10, old and new

February 13, 2007

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.

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