Alan Moore was already a household name in comic books in the late 90s. As the writer behind not only V For Vendetta, not only Watchmen, but of some of the most interesting, nuanced single issues DC has ever put out (seriously, a large chunk of DC’s recent stories have been based on stuff Moore wrote thirty years ago), he had told an incredible comic book story about worlds with no superheroes, another incredible one about a world with only one real superhero, logically one of the remainder had to be...a world where EVERYone was a superhero?? Sure enough, his book for the ABC (America’s Best Comics) imprint, which he helped found after leaving WildStorm, showed us the massive city of Neopolis, a city constructed in the aftermath of World War II to house the enormous number of superheroes who emerged during that time (you all remember that, right? All those superheroes?).
Sure enough, literally everyone from the highest ranked politician to even common pets and vermin, have some kind of superpower. Gene Ha provides the art for the two core books, and he's absolutely at the top of his game. Every panel is crammed with so much content and background jokes and references, that it's almost impossible to comprehend in a single read through without stopping to take fastidious notes on what you're seeing. Of especial note are the pieces of pop-culture that permeate the world, including a popular comic called The Accountant, with the stirring tagline: "You Will Believe a Man Can't Fly!" The notion of an entire superpowered society elevating the mundane to the fantastical has been done before and since, but I have yet to see it done better.
Moore’s first two books follow the police, which the extremely SEO-unfriendly title takes its name from, of this city. Far from being a normal cop procedural, a super powered city creates very, very specific crimes that they are equipped to solve. From the analyst with a powerful sense of synesthesia to the super-intelligent dog in a human-shaped metal chassis to the bioengineered perfect woman and even a warrior from a strange, magical land, everyone has a role to play and no one bats an eye at the bizarre sights that are commonplace in Neopolis. And it's a good thing they have such a diverse set, because crimes range from stopping a drug that gives the user the ability to vibrate in and out of reality to domestic disputes taken to a whole new level, to a homicide in a bar that caters exclusively to actual gods.
There are four official Top 10 books (the two initial volumes, a prequel dubbed “The Forty-Niners” after the year that the main characters arrive in the city, and a fantasy spin-off called Smax centering around the character of the same name) that were written by Moore, as well as a sequel that I won’t regard here because, frankly, the quality is nowhere near the core books and it had a completely different creative team. There’s an incredible murder mystery at the heart of the two main Top 10 books, one that involves one helluva grand conspiracy and that comes to an incredibly logical and satisfying conclusion, but also never forgets to spotlight its main characters in some of the best pure character moments I’ve ever seen.
From the dog’s quest for love (he LITERALLY is a normal-sized dog outside of his human-shaped armor, which is constantly clad in a variety of gaudy t-shirts) to the Peacock King being one of the only real Satanists in pop-culture that isn’t a blood drinking devil worshiper, but certainly is a terrifying figure in his own right, and that’s what this book does: some characters are gay, some have unconventional beliefs, but none of this is ever put under intense scrutiny because they also have insane superpowers that make them stand out far more.
The far stranger stuff are things like one of the characters’ mother having cosmic powered pests invade her apartment, which causes an exterminator to call in superpowered cats, but that merely triggers a mega-crossover event as Galactapus attempts to devour reality, and in the end everything is wiped clean and the exterminator is left with a bill he can’t collect on because no one remembers any of it happening. Yes, all of that seriously and actually happens in this title, across multiple issues, and that’s what’s at the heart of it: it is a singularly unique and strange story that can, and should, be read multiple times because Gene Ha has CRAMMED every panel with a ton of detail and background jokes.
It’s not the most influential book, nor is it the most groundbreaking, but it’s definitely one of the most unique and for that reason alone, it’s worth a look. If a lot of that just sounds like a summation, it’s because it is. This is a series that is VERY difficult to quantify in terms of what makes it special without actually reading it yourself, and that goes back to one of Moore’s greatest strengths: he is one of the only comic book writers who truly writes for the medium of comic books, and no book portrays that better than Top 10. It’s the reason his books translate so poorly into movies: they weren’t written to be movies, they were written exactly for the medium they exist as.
Smax is the odd one out in the series as it takes place in Det. Smax’s strange, fantastical homeland and, as such, is a massive shift in terms of both tone and setting. Though he brings the protagonist, Robin, of the two main titles with him, so there’s someone to question all the strangeness going on at all times, the story is a definite departure, and only really recommended if you absolutely can’t get enough of the two main characters. The art is provided fully by series colorist Zander Cannon, and while his colors on all the titles he works on are top-notch, the pencils are muddy, indistinct, and the characters lack detail. The writing and the story are still absolutely top-notch, and learning more about one of the most enigmatic characters of the Farthest Precinct is a welcome addition.
Which brings us to the prequel (the last book released) with Gene Ha back in the artist's seat and Moore returning after the series’ unfortunate foray into continuation without him and the quality level is right back where it belongs. The story centers on the character who would be police chief in the modern stories and deals with a cabal of vampires secretly planning to overthrow the newly founded city’s government, but again, the larger story is actually a mere footnote to the amazing character studies that go one. From former rivals on the battlefield trying to find love, but finding friendship when love proves impossible, to seeing Neopolis in a more embryonic state in a story that truly feels like a great prequel, rather than a shoe-horned cash-in, Top 10: The 49ers is absolutely worth picking up.
These four books are also entirely self-contained, which is why I’m writing about them as a singular entity, and they’re all worth picking up for their own reasons, if for no other reason than to see masters of their craft at the top of their games. Read them once and then read them again for all the background jokes that you missed...did you catch the kid with the flaming skull riding a unicycle?