Thursday, 3 February 2011

Review - Top 10: The Forty-Niners HC


Top 10 was my favourite of Alan Moore’s ABC titles (not including the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). I must admit that I wasn’t really that keen on most of the other ABC titles – I only read one or two issues of Tomorrow Stories, I lost interest in Tom Strong after six or seven issues, and all that magic stuff in Promethea just did my head in and I gave up on that title a dozen or so issues in (I hope I don’t get turned into a frog for saying that!) – but even so, Top 10 was a pretty good series. It was illustrated by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon and was about the police department in a city called Neopolis, where everyone was a super-hero. This original graphic novel, this time illustrated by Gene Ha on his lonesome, was released in 2005, after the original, twelve-issue Top 10 series finished, and it’s a prequel to that series. It’s set in 1949, hence the title, and it’s about the early days of Neopolis, which was built after World War Two to house all the super-heroes (and villains), who ordinary people didn’t want living next door to them once the war was over.

I actually bought this when it came out in 2005 but for reasons I can’t figure out I have only just read it. I now feel foolish for putting off reading it for so long, though, because it was actually really good and I read the whole thing in one sitting. Its main protagonists are sixteen-year-old Steven Traynor (AKA WWII flying ace Jetlad) and Leni Muller (AKA German super-heroine Sky-Witch, who switched sides during the war), who arrive in Neopolis together at the beginning of the book and decide to share an apartment. As vigilantism is outlawed in Neopolis (and presumably doesn’t pay anyway), the pair begin seeking work. Steve quickly gets a job as a mechanic with the Skysharks – a bunch of Blackhawk-style pilots who have yet to be decommissioned – and Leni gets a job with the police department, after meeting some police officers dealing with some trouble in a bar.

During the course of the book, Steve and Leni encounter time-travelling Nazi scientists, vampires (or Hungarian-Americans with an inherited medical condition, as they prefer to be known), anti-robot racism, and Steve slowly comes to terms with his homosexuality. Like the original Top 10 series, this is packed with background detail and would no doubt reward multiple readings. Steve and Leni are good, well thought-out characters, but so are most of the supporting cast, like the Maid, who has religious super-powers, and Rocket Ryan, a robot who pretends to be human to avoid persecution. There are lots of references to (and appearances by) other fictional characters (Popeye, etc.), many of which I probably missed or just didn’t get, and links to Moore’s other Top 10 stories, most of which I also missed because it’s been some time since I read the original Top 10 series (it wasn’t until after I finished this book that I was reminded that Steve Traynor was captain of Police Precinct 10 in that series), but as a prequel this book can be enjoyed in its own right. Gene Ha’s detailed art looks great here and is really brought to life by Art Lyon’s beautiful colours, which give the whole book an old fashioned, silver glow. I now want to go back and read Moore’s other Top 10 stories – which I don’t remember being quite this good – and will no doubt want to read ‘the Forty-Niners’ again, too.

Cost: This hardcover edition has a cover price of $24.99. I’m not completely sure what that worked out to in pounds in 2005 (about £15.00, I should think) but I had an account with Diamond back then so I only paid 60% of that price. I bet it wouldn’t have been much more (or any more) than that on Amazon (etc.) at the time, though, as most of the time I would have been better off getting my graphic novel stock through Amazon than getting it from Diamond. Both the softcover and hardcover editions of this book seem to be out of print at the moment – although there are plenty of used copies listed on Amazon – but Forbidden Planet International still seem to have the softover edition listed as available on their site for £10.13 (plus £1.00 P&P) and I have seen this in libraries, so you may not even need to buy a copy if you just want to read it.

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