Alan Moore Beyond Watchmen: Top 10
After I first read Watchmen, I excitedly picked up The Killing Joke in order to explore more from...well...Moore. Yet while I liked it and appreciated its impact on the Batman mythology, it seemed an awful lot like Watchmen: the deconstruction of the super-hero—or, in this case, the super-villain. It was violent and perverse, and I thought I just about understood what Alan Moore had to say.
Then, after perusing his section in a comic shop, I discovered that I didn’t know anything at all about the Alan Moore Catalog.
In the much-maligned 1990s era of comics, Alan Moore realized he enjoyed the idea of working free from the confines of properties like Superman and Batman and set out with a cadre of artists to create his own comics line: The ABC Universe. America’s Best Comics (note the tongue-in-cheekiness, as Moore was born and still lives in Northampton, England) was intended to be a universe all Moore’s own, launching Top 10, Tom Strong, Promethea, Tomorrow Stories, and, most famously, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Despite the success of the latter title, the remaining ABC stories are still somewhat under-read by comic fans.
I initially made the ABC plunge with Top Ten, Moore’s response to super-hero “team” books. “Let’s do some thinking about modern super-hero teams. And the first thing I thought is, well, they don’t very often work,” Moore states in the recently re-released and true-its-subtitle The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore: Indispensable Edition. “None of the characters acted like they did in their regular books, because they'd all kind of been reduced to their lowest common denominator so they’d all fit together.”
Stories that did work well on a team level, Moore noted, were police series, like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, etc., where the story depended on the team dynamic coupled with individual personalities. And so he set a police team in the middle of a city populated solely by super-heroes, super-villains, super-pets, sidekicks, alternate-earth counterparts, and so on—all the clichés of comics, but living together in one super-city, secret identities and all.
“If everyone was a super-villain, a super-hero…then it would become completely normal and mundane and boring. Then, you’d be able to do the same gritty realism stories they did in NYPD Blue or The Shield or whatever, but everyone would be wearing some sort of long underwear costume.”
Top Ten follows a precinct of super-cops policing a populace of super-powered civilians, and it succeeds on just about every level. It’s funny, satirical, thought-provoking, touching, and, most of all, believable. The first chapter of Book 1 is so packed with details—the reader is introduced to no less than eleven characters, all of whom are referred to by first, last, and “super” names-- that the novelty at the core of the series never has time to become cute. Moore and artistic co-creator Gene Ha construct an entire city called Neopolis, complete with class issues, politics, religion, and consequences. Layout artist Zander Cannon and Ha zoom in and out of the city, detailing graffiti, billboards, alleyways, all the small touches we take for granted as we walk to work. There are plenty of in-jokes as well (a subway advertisement boasts, “Logan’s DNA Supplement: Complete with Extra Adamantium!”) and eagle-eyed readers will be sure to spot familiar characters milling about in crowd scenes.
The series was such an Eisner Award-winning success that it spawned a spin-off miniseries, Smax, which ranks among my favorites of Moore’s work. Moore and Zander Cannon take a farcical stab at the traditional Fantasy adventure and follow one of the officers from Top 10 as he, along with his partner, reluctantly returns to his Tolkien-esque homeworld (or “backworld,” as the title character embarrassedly refers to it).
After finishing Book 2 and taking a several-year hiatus, Moore and Ha returned to Top 10 with a prequel, The Forty-Niners, which depicts the very beginnings of Neopolis some fifty years before the previous stories. It’s a nostalgic look at the impetus of all that is to come to the grand city as WWII ends and the heroes and villains find themselves without purpose or direction:
“But now. Now all the noise has stopped, and it is quiet. Now we can hear our hearts again.”
Top 10 is a series beyond super-hero dissection. Moore turns the team book in on itself and looks both inward and outward, and, like much of the ABC catalog, it is told with the joy of a creator experiencing creative freedom.
*Another slightly esoteric Alan Moore series to be featured next as we near the cinematic release of his masterpiece, Watchmen.