In the late 90's Alan Moore was working for Rob Leifeld's Awesome comics studio and was given the chance to revamp the whole line. But before he got very far into it, Jim Lee, the owner of the Image imprint Wildstorm gave Alan an offer he couldn't refuse. He could create a whole shared universe with characters of his own creation rather than working with already defined ones. The studio was named ABC - America's Best Comics and the three main series that Moore came up with were Promethea, Tom Strong and Top Ten (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was also published under the ABC imprint, but was not part of the ABCverse, relying as it did on literature and pop culture from "our" universe). Of these three comics, Top Ten feels like the most overlooked. Promethea is a stunning tour de force that was pretty much Moore's mission statement on life. Tom Strong was a love letter to the Silver Age that people were beginning to feel intense nostalgia for after the EXTREME 90's soured people on darker comic tales. Top Ten though for my money is actually my favourite Moore work since Watchmen, predecated on one simple idea. What would police work be like in a city where everyone, including the cops were superheroes? The story manages to mix the gritty slice of life detective drama of Hill Street Blues and Homicide: Life On The Street with the bright and colourful world of the American superhero tropes. Packed full of homages, jokes, clever references and just general all round awesomeness, these twelve issues, split across two trade paperbacks are gorgeously illustrated by Zander Cannon and Gene Ha and are something pretty special.
After a written, in universe description of a trip round Neopolis with a pair of cops, the comic begins. The first well-worn cop trope of the rookie police officer as our P.O.V character to all the weirdness that is due to unfold is put into action. Robyn, who doesn't have superpowers, but does have a set of mechanical toy helpers gets in a cab driven by a man with a blindfold on who uses his "zen senses" to get around the city. At the precinct she meets Jackie Kowalski, a lesbian who can phase shift, Duane, a cowboy with mechanical legs and Kemlo, a talking doberman in a robotic humanoid exo-skeleton.
|Robyn and Smax|
After breaking up a domestic dispute, Robyn and Smax are called to a murder scene. Already there are Detectives Corbeau (a devil worshipper) and Jackson, a female detective who has synathesia and is reading the scene with her enhanced senses. Robyn lets her toys comb the scene and finds some ID and a high tech saddle in the area. Back at the precinct she has a chat in the canteen with Irma-Geddon, a woman with high tech armour and firepower and Li a woman who can make shifting patterns across her body. They are called away by Kemlo who says they have traced the murder victim to a drug factory which they are now going to raid.
|The factory raid|
Next day, Irma and Li are chatting in a car on the way to work when the Zen Cabbie crashes into them. Back in the precinct Jackson is discussing the Gromolko case with Peregrine, a woman with wings who is also a devout Christian. They are looking for the partner of the "saddle" man Stefan Graczik, a Marta "Boots" Wesson who was also a runner for Gromolko's drug operation.
Kemlo gives a briefing, Corbeau and Jackson are to handle the Gromolko case, Duane and Cheney are to keep an eye out for Libra and check the prostitutes are safe, and someone needs to go and help Irma and Li who have broken down in a bad part of town. Smax and Robyn go to their aid. An unruly gang has appeared and the leader is a drunken, green monster man who Smax stuns with his chest beam. They take him and the Zen cabbie back to the precinct.
|A drunken Grograh|
Cabbie: "Where'd you want to go?"
Jackson: "Well, you tell us, right? I mean 'where we end up is where we're meant to be'. Isn't that your line? Well, you take us where we're meant to be."
They make somewhat erratic progress through the streets and wind up at a derelict museum. There they find Marta Wesson cowering in a corner and arrest her.
|Nice boots Marta|
Marta Wesson is kicking up a fuss at the front desk, but she is subdued and taken into interrogation. She says all they were doing were running supplies of 'goose juice (mongoose blood) and when she is told Gromolko killed himself she goes quiet and lawyers up. Jackson is still pondering the Mozart music she heard round "saddles" Graczik's corpse. Cheney and Duane go to collect Glushko, and their car is vandalised by gang members angry about Grograh's incarceration. He's in lock-up currently being needled by Smax. Robyn is concerned about gang violence escalating over this, but Smax doesn't care.
Smax: "If Duane and Pete want to treat him like he's some special, off-limits case, then fine. To me, he's just the delinquent kid of a wino, has-been, fifties movie monster. He screws up on my turf, he goes down. End of story."
|Jackie, Peregrine and Cheney|
While everyone rushes outside, a woman comes into the precinct, gives Kemlo her severed finger and faints in his arms. Outside, the drunken monster Gograh throws up radioactive puke all over the street. The Captain takes charge, ordering cleanup and building evacuation. He then starts reasoning with the monster until Smax comes out and starts baiting Gograh. The pathologist, Sally-Jo arrives and uses her shrinking technology to shrink Gograh down to a size small enough to fit in the Capatains palm. Then Sally-Jo goes to check on the fainted woman, noting the cleaness of the cut.
|Grograh's dad comes to call|
At the museum, Jackon hears music, but not Mozart, instead The Ode To Joy. They discover Marta and Graczik's squat and the mysterious substance they were going to deal. It's in a cylinder and turns out to be dangerously radioactive so they can't take it away just yet they need someone immune to radiation to collect it.
|Corbeau, Jackson and Glushko find the mystery substance|
Annette: "I saw what I saw. It came out of the drain, and it was like purple candyfloss".
So Kemlo, Annette, Duane, Cheney and Jackie go to where she was attacked and find a drainage hole open. They are also fed the news that the bio-traces are extra terrerestrial in origin.
As Duane and Jackie descend into the hole, Duane gets a call from his Mum about a hole in her flat. Back at the precinct, Smax and Robyn are sent to collect the radioactive substance. Lieutenant Peregrine is being told more about the alien. It takes heads because it requires the pineal gland. It's lifecycle meant that it's kills fell in a pattern, but otherwise it was a coincidence they all fell under the period of the sign of Libra.
In the sewers, Duane and Jackie joke around, then suddenly Duane yells at Jackie to phase. They are faced with a huge alien, with thrashing, razor sharp monofilaments. Pete Cheney arrivesa and usesa his electrical powers to force it into a retreat. They call for back-up, but everyone is busy. Jackson says there has been a break in the Graczik-Gromolko casae, a transworld ticket was found along side the radioactive susbstance. So Duane, Cheney and Jackson carry on chasing Libra themselves.
|Jackie and Duane discover Libra|
It's snowing in Neopolis and Smax is having a strange dream in which he meets dead people like his previous partner, and also Robyn appears which concerns him slightly. He wakes up and goes to open the closet, inside is something speaking in rhyme but we don't find out what that is all about until the spin-off miniseries Smax. He collects Robyn, having warmed to her somewhat and they arrive at the station to find out Libra has been captured. They go take a look, she is inside a glass cylinder being watched over by Kemlo, who is out of his exoskeleton while it gets repaired.
Back with Santa, he zaps Smax high into the air, resisting all attempts to deal with him. Then Harry arrives from the precinct. He is a hostage negociator who's power is that his voice must be obeyed. This allows them to arrest Santa successfully. Robyn and Smax head back, while Smax haltingly tells her about his dream and how he thinks he needs to be nicer to people before it's too late. Then they are waylaid by the Norse Goddess Freya, who is distraught. At a party in the Godz bar, someone has murdered her son. Robyn and Smax arrive on the scene:
Smax: "Okay, Okay, we're police officers. Nobody move in a mysterious way."
Oh very good Alan. Very good. I shall use that at the club next time I'm there. People will be slapping my back for weeks.
At the precinct, Libra is using her telepathic power to try and get her guard to free her. Jackosn stops the man, Hector and tells him that Libra used to be a porn star and is really called M'rrlga Qualtz. Corbeau tells Jackson they finished testing the isotope, it's more of a compressed powder, designed to be dissolved and injected like a drug. It's also not on their periodic table.
|Trouble at the Godz bar|
Lokk: "I mean there's Balder, he's all 'look at me, I'm lovely, everything loves me'. I mean I'm the God of Evil, what am I gonna do?"
Back at the precinct, the Captain tells Corbeau he should book a ticket to Grand Central to follow up the Graczik-Gromolko case. Then a group of heroes arrive demanding to see M'rrlga Qualtz asa she used to be a member of their supergroup. They refuse to believe she is a killer, and when the Captain takes them to see her, she has changed into a pretty green humanoid woman.
Back at Godz, Corbeau is having a good laugh, pointing out the death of Balder is a cyclical thing. To prove him right, Balder suddenly comes back to life to the cheers of the rest of the Gods who decide they'll celebrate by playing the "throw things at Balder" game. Jackson declares the whole thing a waste of time and all the cops there go for coffee. Thus ends book one.