Saturday, 13 September 2014

Alan Moore Obscurities: Top Ten: Book 2 (#8-12)

"Do not weep.  Being is enough. There, that is all. I am done..." - Kapela

Let's talk about artists for a moment.  One of the reasons Alan Moore's time at pre-ABC Image and Awesome comics is so unsatisfying is not just because you can tell his heart wasn't in much of what he was writing, but also due to the poor quality of the artists he was paired with.  The only one he can have been at all happy with was fellow Swamp Thing collaborator Rick Vietch's work on the flashback sequences in Moore's Supreme run, which still suffered from the problem of too many poor quality artists on the modern day sequences.  Voodoo, his most dire work by far was a four issue miniseries with seven artists working on it, all at odds with each other.  Now even the best artist in the world couldn't have made Voodoo a classic, but it might have taken some of the edge off the worst aspects of the script.  But the Image years were something of a blip and Alan Moore generally has been very lucky to have artists who are perfect for the material he writes and both make each other sing.  It would have taken a dreadful artist to ruin Watchmen, but it's testement to Dave Gibbon's talent that over twenty-five years later, while I know the script off by heart I can still spot some new nuance in the artwork I had missed up until then. Ian Gibson on The Ballad Of Halo Jones, Steve Bissette and John Totleben on Swamp Thing, Dave Lloyd on V for Vendetta, Mick Gray and JH Williams III on Promethea, Eddie Campbell on From Hell, all created definitive visions of Moore scripts, and I'm adding Top Ten artists Zander Cannon and Gene Ha to that list, for managing to balance the crazy and colourful world of a city full of superheroes with a down-at-the-heel streetview of the day-to-day life of a cop.

The first issue begins with Peregrine getting up and ready for work.  She flies up to the part of the sky used for flying vehicles.  She's been called to a "Jump Bump" where two sets of teleporting travellers crash into each other and materialise is the same spot.   One of the victims is a huge, armoured horse headed alien called Kapela, a "white cavalry piece" in some mysterious game being played across the network. The other is a couple, their spaceship fused inside Kapela, the woman is dead, the man also fused in Kapela is alive, but cannot be freed. All they can do is wait for them both to die.  This is actually a shout out to a famous Homicide:  Life On The Street episode, where a man gets trapped between a train and the platform, which virtually severs him, only keeping the train in place is keeping him alive, but nothing can be done for him except the cops being with him as he slowly dies.
The aftermath of the Jump Bump. Note Astro Boy flying past on the top lefthand side!
Back at the Top Ten precinct, the Captain is being harrassed by the friends of Libra, or M'rralga Qualtz as she is really known as, who want her freed.  They are a superteam called The Sentinels she was once part of.  The Lieutenant is resisting this as she is in fact a serial killer.  They all go to see her and Libra tries to telepathically persaude Jackie to free her but just makes Jackie mad.   Meanwhile Corbeau is getting ready to visit the desination of the Trans World ticket found during the Graczik-Gromolko case investigation, hoping to find out more about the buyer of the strange radioactive drug they found.

At the crash site Peregrine questions the dying man, who is called Mr. Nebula.  He saw a human figure in the beam before the accident as did Kapela. A station worker who was knocked unconcious by the debris from th explosion comes round and they question him too. At the precinct, the Lieutenant notifies Grand Central that Corbeau will be visiting.  Central tell him that next wednesday there will be an inspection of Top Ten.  Back at the crash site the cops figure out the station worker is actually a 'porter, or a teleporter who makes unlicensed jumps across beams and who caused the accident and they arrest him.

Peregrine elects to stay with Kapela and Mr.Nebula until they pass on.  Later that night as numbness starts to claim Mr.Nebula, conversation turns to the life and death, with Kapela talking about it in the philosophy behind the mysterious game he is part of.

Kapela: "Just look above you.  Do you see? That is called the immense board of lights.. And that is the great black. And strewn across it, small and vulnerable and brave, that is the great white."

Mr. Nebula: "...And the great white, I mean there is so much more black.  A-are we losing?"

Kapela: "No.  Once there was only black. We are winning. All is right.  We can go."

And Mr. Nebula, then Kapela die.  The final page of this very emotive issue is Peregrine in silent prayer for them both. And you may call me a massive fucking pussy, but I tear up at the end of this issue Every. Damn. Time.  *sniffle*
A prayer for the deceased
The next issue gets off to a more light-hearted start as Cowboy Duane and his partner Pete go to check on the Ultramice problem in his Mum's flat.  The exterminator says there have been "problems".  A vexed Duane just wants his Mum out of his hair.

Exterminator: "Get enought science animals together, it's a big event.  Next thing it escalates, you get a whole Secret Crisis Wars crossover thing going on.  Inevitably cosmic powers get involved. You know how it is."

Oh Alan Moore, I love you.  Having a Crisis Crossover parody with cats and mice going on in a manky flat as a very minor subplot is just glorious.  Anyway, Duane and Pete leave, Duane bemoans the lack of sex life he has with his Mum staying with him.

Pete:  "Hey come on.  It's all gonna be over soon."

Duane: "Pete, you heard what he said.  Pretty soon we could have parallel world critters involved and mice from different time periods and stuff.  I am screwed buddy."
I could look at this page all day.  It's a parody of the Galactus Fantastic Four story, with lots of little mouse parody superheroes added in.  I especially like Wonder Woman mouse in the top right corner!
Back at the precinct the Captain is talking with Libra.  She believes she is soon to be killed, maybe by one of her friends.  He asks her if she is trying to humiliate him.  Libra says she could easily do that by telling everyone he is gay.

Corbeau has arrived at Grand Central, one of the many worlds where the Roman Empire never fell.  Corbeau is rather insultingly referred to as a "nubian" and it seems good old racism is alive and well on this world.  His welcome is not what he expected as he is shanghied into competing in a gladitorial game.  Being a cerified badass he wins a place in the final  Meanwhile, as this chapter comes to an end, as Irma-Geddon is waved off to work another portent of coming disaster is given by her precog husband, who suddenly senses something terrible will happen to her.
Corbeau in action.
Next issue sees the return of Robyn and Smax investigating the shooting death of a man in a night club.  Smax also mentions that today sees the inspection of the precinct by the Commissioner. Later at roll call, Jackson says she is worried they haven't heard back from Corbeau since he left for Grand Central.  Afterwards the Commissioner appears outside in a burst of purple light.

Commissioner: "I want to see how one of our smaller, more remote precincts works, in all it's grimy detail."

Captain Trayor shows her round, and she rudely refuses to shake hands or speak to Sally-Jo who is black.  She is more interested in seeing the forensic department.  Traynor says it's locked up at the moment due to the radiative drug inside.  Commander Bailey has the keys and he is in the canteen so they go down there.

In the canteen the synathestic cop Jackson suddenly hears The Ode To Joy, the music she heard during the Graczik investigation.  She realises she was hearing smell of the Commissioners perfume, and that the Commissioner was Graczik's off-world buyer. The Commissioner fires a huge energy blast at Jackson, but Li knocks her out of the way and takes the full force, killing her almost instantly.  Now it's out in the open that she is a villain the cops spring into action.

Smax: "Captain Traynor, sir? All due respect, sir.  Permission to use extreme force"

Traynor: "Break her ****ing neck, son"
Smax is such a badass.
Smax is able to resist her blasts, as he reads her out her rights she screams "just give me the Christ-damned Xenite!"  She knocks him over with a massive blast, so he gets up and blasts her back.  In the chaos walls are broken and Libra's cell gets smashed.  Libra panics and ends up getting killed. Smax and the Commissioner continue to fight but the Commissioner has the upper hand as Smax begins to tire.  Robyn has an idea, why not give her the Xenite?  So they do, all of it in one massive dose which knocks her out (interestingly this was the exact same way Ladytron gets taken down in Moore's run on WildC.A.T.s although the drug then was heroin).  Before she passes out she lets out one huge blast, knocking down a wall on top of Robyn, which sends Smax into a griefstricken rage.  She isn't dead though, trapped under the wreckage a strange transparent man called "The Rumor" addresses her.
Sadly this mysterious being is never referred to again.  Possibly he was a plot thread to be picked up in the next "season" of stories...
The next issue shows the precinct being rebuilt and the introduction of Joe PI, the robot replacement for Li.   Something I haven't touched upon yet in these recaps is the undercurrent of prejudice suffered by robots in the Top Ten world.  They are known as "clickers", which is roughly analogous to using the word nigger in our world.  So he gets a frosty welcome from Irma, who was Li's and now Joe's partner.  At roll call Kemlo tells everyone the Commissioner is being replaced and investigated and that Corbeau has been released and also that he won the gladitorial contest off-screen.  He also has a letter for a "Jaafe Macksun" who turns out to be Smax.

The next case, the murder of a Bubblegum boy mainly functions to show off what Joe PI can do.He is thoughtful and gentle with the victims partner (and it's heavily implied this is the couple who were having a domestic in the first issue and the wife finally killed her husband), and despite Pete prejucided remarks, Irma is impressed with him.  Jackson and Corbeau's family greet him at the Trans World station, he has a spiffy trophy from winning the tournament.  Jackson wonders why Corbeau's family walk so far behind him as they leave, he says it is traditional.
Joe PI's first case at Top Ten.
Smax visits Robyn in hospital, she was lucky to escape having a wall fall on her with bruises and a broken leg. Smax tells him his uncle Mack who bought him up has died - this is setting up the Smax miniseries that spun off from Top Ten. At the Top Ten precinct Captain Traynor is impressed by Joe PI's interview technique.  "Yeah he's real efficient" snaps Irma.

In the hall, Pete is mouthing off anti-robot prejudice while trying to get a candy bar out of a vending machine.  Joe appears and comments that is more common for humans to be aroused by robots than vice versa.  Pete is skeptical as he stands with his hand in the vending machine.

Joe PI: "Well with respect, I should point out that you're the one feeling up my retarded, hill-billy cousin Emmy Sue in public."

Pete: "WHAT?!" (jumps back in horror)

Joe PI: "Emmy Sue it breaks my heart to see you lowering yourself to this.  Cover yourself up girl and we'll say no more about it"

This makes Duane and Jackson helpless with laughter while Pete grouches that he needs to go wash his hand now.  Later they all attend Li's funeral, except for Joe PI.  Irma meets him outside the cemetary and accuses him of not respecting Li.  Joe says he actually didn't want Irma to accuse him of feigning emotion.  This makes Irma warm to him more and she takes him home with her, breaking down about Li in his arms when they get there.
An amusing nod to the tendency for superheroes to come back from the dead as well as riffing on the old cliche that only cops attend cop funerals.
The issue ends with Smax at Robyn's house where he has been looking after he elderly father.  He tells Smax to stop ordering him about and doesn't he have a father of his own.  Smax looks stricken, then mutters "Guess not".  The issue ends with him sitting outside looking thoughtful.

The final issue (Nooo!) begins with Jackie and Peregine watching the show reels M'rralga Qualtz handed over during the Libra investigation.   She was part of a superhero team called the Sentinels, and these were records of their "space war" battles, but something seems fake about them.  Then one reel turns out to be a porno and it really demonstrates were the Sentinels were about.
Sentinals propaganda.
Meanwhile, Duane's Mum is refusing to pay the exterminator for the removal of the Ultramice, apparently the event changed time and continuity and now only the exterminator remembers.  He gets enraged as he talks about getting paid, and Pete shocks him unconcious and he and Duane take the poor guy to the precinct under arrest.  Joe PI goes to pick up Irma and proves a big hit with her husband and kids.

Irma: "Hey, you know you AI's are almost too cute. How do I unplug you when you take over the world.

Joe PI: "Ask me the purpose of existence and I explode.  Come on, let's go to work.

At roll call the Captain tells them they have linked the shooting death in the nightclub to the Libra case.   The victim was affiliated with the Sentinels as part of a team called the Young Sentinels and he was planning on selling his story to the public.  Seems the Sentinels faked all their heroic off-world deeds and are in fact a paedophile ring, with the Young Sentinels as a grooming operation, the porno they saw proved it.   So it's time to take down the Sentinels.

They bust into the headquarters and arrest everyone on conspiracy to murder and statutory rape charges.  Duane and Pete go to the mansion of big hitter Lomax, who tries to attack Duane with his car.  Duane shoots it and it blows up with Lomax inside although Lomax is thrown clear by the blast and arrested.  Corbeau and Jackson go and collect the Young Sentinels to put them in protective custody. One of them telepathically warns Atoman and he locks himself in his bunker. Joe Pi and Irma are outside it and Smax turns up and tries to blast it open.  he fails.  So Joe Pi, over the intercom manages to convince Atoman that killing himself would be preferable to standing charges of paedophilia and Atoman vaporises himself. "Problem solved" comments Joe laconically.
Duane finally gets his badass moment.
At the hospital, Smax admits to Robyn that he would like it if she accompanied him back to his home world for the funeral of his uncle.  There are complications he doesn't elaborate on, but she agrees to do so anyway. The issue ends with Captain Traynor returning home to his older male partner.

Traynor: "I love you old man.  And that's enough right? Even in a city like this?"

And the book ends with the tantalising caption "End of Season One" implying more seasons that sadly never came.

So why was there no more Top Ten besides the spin-foff Smax and prequel, The 49ers?  I haven't found a definite reason online.  Speculation seems to suggest that it was an early casualty of Wildstorm selling itseif and the ABC imprint to DC who Moore absolutely hated by this point.  If you purchase these trade paperbacks now they are out under the Vertigo imprint rather than ABC.  It seems that Moore started to drop everything he wasn't passionately dedicated to, ie: everything bar Promethea and the League Of Extraodinary Gentlemen and Top Ten wasn't one he felt as much for.  Which is an awful shame, because of all his ABC work it's my hands down favourite.  Maybe I am biased because I love cop drama, but it is so choc full of incident, jokes, lovely character moments and drama that it rewards multiple rereadings like the very best of Moore.  There is also the rumour that despite it winning awards it was cancelled due to low sales, but the prescence of spin-offs would seem to preclude that.  Still, whatever the reason for it's demise, we have twelve issues here that deserve to be more well known and cherished and no one even got raped.  You CAN do it if you try Alan!


  1. I like Peregrine. Her name means 'pilgrim'.

  2. I did not know that, thanks! Fits with her being a Christian doesn't it? She definitely the nicest, kindest character in the book.