Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Comic Review: Top Ten - The Forty Niners
Alan Moore is the greatest writer of comic books ever. There, I said it. Are you happy? Are you mad? Do you disagree? In terms of technical prowess and structure, he's unmatched. In terms of characters and emotion, well, sometimes he's hit or miss with that. But with his series Top Ten, illustrated by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, he managed to balance both humour, suspense, character, story and theme so seemingly effortlessly, that the series ranks as one of my favourite comic books ever. But I had never read the prequel Top Ten - The Forty Niners... until today.
Set in 1949, the graphic novel follows the intertwined story of Steve Traynor, (the future Captain of Precinct 10) and Leni Muller, a new cop for the new police force in the science-hero city of Neopolis. While Traynor is a war hero and works with other war heroes with nothing to do, Muller is a former opponent of the States and now works with the newly established police. While Traynor deals with his personal life and his relationship to the war heroes and specifically to Wulf, his friend, Muller's story is one of vampire gangsters and murdered Nazi scientists. It all comes together in a terrific organic and suspenseful climax.
Just like the original series, Top Ten - The Forty Niners has absolutely astonishing art from Gene Ha and tons of visual references to comic books. However, in this prequel, the comic book references are to more prototypical and early comics such as Krazy Kat and Li'l Abner. A more enlightened connoisseur of comics history will probably enjoy the easter eggs more than I did.
As well, Moore hits all the right notes with this series while still saying something interesting and new about police and superheroes. It's funny and touching and emotionally engaging with fully developed characters and a fantastic sense of structure. It's absolutely wonderful.
I prefer the original series, if only because it's more outrageous and grounded in character, rather than this prequel, which is more concerned with plot and set-up. This isn't a criticism, per se; I still enjoyed The Forty Niners immensely, but I prefer the original.
If you've found Alan Moore to be dry or cold or more interested in form than in character, this is the series to start on. There isn't anything cold or dry about Top Ten and its spin-offs. I highly recommend this series and this prequel.