Top 10 vol. 1 (#1 – 12) – Alan Moore

5 out of 5

The genius of Top 10 lies in its simplicity, which is exactly not the term to use for a comic that’s ridiculously complex – a huge cast, tons of storylines, packed artwork – but, well, that’s exactly the point. While there are some negative letter-writers in the backmatter of any given issue of Alan Moore’s / Gene Ha’s superhero police procedural, you’ll more often see repeated praise, and with a specific: that I just picked up so-and-so issue for the first time, and despite all those characters and stories, I was able to get into it right away.

Top 10 is like the nexus of some of Alan’s other ABC titles at the time: it features the reference-heavy visuals of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; the pulpy celebratory writing style of Tom Strong; and the roundtable narratives of an anthology book, a la Tomorrow Stories. And its roots are pretty innocent, with Moore realizing that comic team books tended to lack the balance of ensemble shows like Law & Order, then realizing that a comic about cop capes wouldn’t be very balanced unless the criminals also wore capes, leading to Neopolis, a city in which the entire population is super-powered…

What Top 10 isn’t is the overarching story of LXG, or its later distracting focus on those references; it’s allowed to get grittier and has to remain oddly more grounded than Tom Strong; and, well, it’s not an anthology book overall – part of the charm of its essentially self-contained cases is how the cast comes back to the Neopolis precinct to trade stories and experiences. This structure is its indirect simplicity, and where my headcanon has Moore going back to a style of 2000 AD writing – Future Shock-y, with ideas riffing off of themselves instead of having to be mapped out for X issues, with byzantine panel notes.

Art is initially credited to Gene Ha and Zander Cannon before they switch over to clarifying that Cannon handled layouts – whether or not he was assisting on inks prior to that is unclear, but the look remains consistent throughout. I will say the proportions of things sometimes feel off (SMAX is apparently super tall, for example, but he often only looks like a within-reason tall person), and Gene’s style often has a digital edge to it which can be weird, but by and large, Ha’s dense, stiff look is perfect for the series, balancing out that absurd realism for which it’s aiming, and keeping all of the little Easter Egg visuals in there without distracting from whatever a panel’s intended focus is meant to be. That is: storytelling always comes first.

The only thing to really “criticize” is in retrospect: the world and characters are so well realized and so much fun that you want the book to continue without end, or at least for more “seasons” (if we’re equating to a TV show) than we ultimately got. And like the better of such shows, while Moore might’ve been having fun crafting one-off tales for our various cop partners to chase down, some background elements do carry over, meaning we get to know these people bit by bit, leading to some really satisfactory relationships that build without any flashbacks or obvious exposition dumps. So by issue #12, all we want is to continue in that trend: see more science-gone-wrong cases; learn more about the various universes which have their own versions of Neopolis P.D.; see how things develop for our various oddball, taciturn, religious, racist, rookie cops…