Top Ten Books 1 and 2 were #s 98 and 99 on my book challenge for the year, the graphic novel collections by Alan Moore, illustrated by Gene Ha with layouts by Zander Cannon. I re-read this series before reading the new Top Ten graphic novel, The Forty-Niners, by Moore and Ha, which was #100. Then I enjoyed all of them so much that I pulled out the Smax mini-series by Moore and Cannon and re-read that to get to #101. These are some fine graphic novels.
First, about the original Top Ten series. This is a police/mystery procedural, set in Neopolis, a city where everyone has super powers. Top Ten are the police force who try, and mostly succeed, in maintaining order. Moore’s story is marvelous. The multiple plots threads are complex and intriguing. The characters are many and yet still fleshed out. Ha’s scratchy, detailed art perfectly conveys the chaotic nature of the story, while Cannon’s behind-the-scenes layout makes the complex story flow clearly. Top Ten begins with Robyn Slinger’s first day on the job. Partnered with a big, surly blue guy named Smax, Robyn is immediately part of the multiple cases the force is handling. The twelve-issue series had multiple arcs, and maintained them all throughout as Robyn and her fellow police officers figure things out.
Top Ten: The Forty-Niners is a graphic novel original that tells the story of the early days of Neopolis, and centers on of one of the characters from the earlier series, Steve Traynor, aka Jetlad. It’s set in a mythical post-WWII time. Ha’s art is different–softer, with more pastel to reflect the nostalgia and the promise of the new era. While it can’t compete with the complexity of the longer series, this is still an outstanding story with lovely art and great characterization.
Smax has an entirely different tone. It is set in the immediate aftermath of the original series, and follows Robyn as she accompanies her work partner Jeff Smax to his homeworld to attend the funeral of the “uncle” who raised him. Smax comes from a pre-industrial world where magic still figures prominently, with fairies, elves and more. Cannon’s whimsical art style is suited both to the magical milieu of the story as well as its humorous tone. While there are dark parts to the story, the ending, as is true of the Forty-Niners, is not for the conservative. Smax is a fun, funny romp of a story, filled with visual in-jokes.
Both Smax and The Forty-Niners are good companions to the original Top Ten, fleshing out some of the background. After having read all four, though, I am reminded that the original series is probably one of my favorite comic series. Ever. It was certainly my favorite book from Moore’s line of America’s Best Comics. (Yes, I did like it even more than League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The storylines were more complex, the characters more engaging, and the endings more satisfying.)