OK, I think I can let Moore out of the Sin Bin now. But first sign of rape and back in he goes. Now, for me, the last great period Moore had as a writer was in the very late 90's and early 00's when he was writing several ongoings for America's Best Comics, which was later subsumed into the DC Vertigo imprint. This included Tom Strong, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea and my personal favourite, Top Ten,his twelve issue series took place in the mid 1980's and told the story of the police force of the city of Neopolis with art by Zander cannon and Gene Ha. This city was somewhat different from your average one as everyone there had either superpowers, super skills or was a robot or an alien or some kind of paranormal creature. The series took a gritty, Hill Street Blues style take on the everyday life of the Top Ten police precinct, although the series was actually an affecionate tribute to the positive aspects of the superhero rather than being dark for the sake of darkness. Being a huge fan of police proceedurals I was impressed at how skillfully Moore blended that genre's trops with those of the superhero. A "season two" was teased at the end of the twelve issues after the major plotline investigations had been solved, however all that ended up following it was a humorous sword n'sorcery fantasy miniseries called SMAX done with Zander Cannon and this original graphic novel done with Gene Ha (it's split into four chapters but was always one book rather than a collected trade), which is a prequel set in the years after world war 2 with the founding of Neopolis explored as well as giving us some more background on the police chief who ended up in charge of the Top Ten precinct, here a boy in his mid teens. So without further ado, lets take a trip to post-war Neopolis.
|Stephen and Leni travelling to Neopolis.|
Next to sit down with Stephen and the vampire is the chirpy and friendly Private Iron, a robot. He is roundly ignored by them. It's been well established in this universe that robots are the targets of extreme prejudice with the slur "clicker" being as offensive there as nigger is to us. A woman also comes to sit down, her name is Leni Muller, a German "skywitch" who faced Stephen in battle before she switched sides in 1943.
|Welcome to Neopolis.|
They wonder what jobs they can do. Leni thinks maybe she could be a nightclub singer, Stephen thinks his aviation experience won't be helpful. As they walk through the city, they comment:
Stephen: "Th-this is nuts. Everybody's a science hero. I mean this will never work. The government. This whole relocation thing, it's just - "
Leni: "The war's over mein junge and now nobody wants us to live next door to them."
They catch a cab to City Hall. When they get there people are being told to stand aside for a Professon Gromolko, he's an ex-Nazi scientist, given a pardon because he has vital skills the US want to use even though he built something called a "Blitzwheel" that destroyed Amsterdam.
Inside, Leni and Stephen are told to go down the hall. The room is crowded and a man gets up to speak, he is "Jonny Genovese. The Mayor of Neopolis". Genovese then proceeds to give a rambling, drunken speech telling them they aren't special anymore and there will be no vigilantism, only the police force will be enforcing the law and catching criminals.
Genovese: "You wanna fight crime, you go down the precinct on Pike Street and you get a badge."
Later Leni and Stephen arrive at the boarding house they have been assigned. Once they have settled in they go and explore the neighbourhood. Leni asks where Stephen's plane is, he says the air force still has her. They enter a bar, so Leni can see if there are any jobs going. Sitting at a table are a bunch of uniformed men "the Sky Sharks".
|The Sky Sharks.|
Then two sinister looking men come into the bar and threatens the bar owner with a protection racket, which the bar owner rejects. The Sky Sharks tell them to back off, but the men, who are obviously vampires, threatens to kill Stephen. Then the police arrive. The are "Rocket Ryan", the entirely metal encased "Steel Gauntlet" and "The Maid", a Joan of Arc type. The vampire tries to blame the Sky Sharks for causing trouble, but The Maid is able to sense the truth, "you are of the dark and not clean. Best you begone from here."
|The Maid sees off the vampire mafia.|
The next chapter begins with Stephen working as a mechanic for the Sky Sharks. After praising Wulf for his flying they go to the canteen to get some lunch. They go and sit with John Sharkey who says he can get Stephen's old plane transported there. John they holds up a paper saying that policing the city is too much for the police force and should be turned over to the military. Stephen says Leni is starting work with the police force soon.
Wulf asks how Stephen's "girlfriend" is doing. Stephen admits she isn't actually his girlfriend. We then cut to Leni at the precinct on her first day. Steel Gauntlet, aka Frank Chambers greets her as she comes across him and another cop abusing the friendly robot from the train. Frank tells Leni, "clickers are nothing but trouble."
|Leni's first day, Frank welcomes her.|
Frank takes her to Ramon and then takes his leave. Leni says to Ramon that Frank seems nice, but what's his story? Ramon says Frank had an accident that ruined his body and now wears steel armour all the time to cover himself up. Ramon unveils his vehicle, a flying motorbike and he and Leni ride out. They quickly get embroiled in a fight between to science heroes and arrest them for vigilante actions and child endangerment because of the young sidekick.
Leni and Ramon go back on patrol and Ramon says the child endangerment laws have been bought in because people are uncomfortable with men running around with kids, "ask me, they are all queers" says Ramon. They are then called to the building where the nazi scientists are working. They find the armoured body of Panzer, one of the scientific advisors. They open it up and there is nothing inside but acrid smoke. Leni takes statemets as Ramon goes to call it in.
|There's been a Murder.|
Wulf: "You know in some ways back in the war it was better... everything was black and white. In that fight we had no time to think. But now all the noise has stopped, and it is quiet. Now we can hear our hearts again. What now?"
Back with Leni and Ramon, they haven't managed to get anything out of the Nazis. Leni says it is shameful that they are here in the USA as they leave. Ramon drops her off at the bar, "Scowling Joes" and inside are Wulf and Stephen. Stephen frantically greets her and gives her a big, overcompensating kiss. After a drink Leni and Stephen go back to the boarding house.
After a somewhat frosty breakfast sometime later, Leni goes out to join her fellow cops in a raid on a vampire brothel. They bash their way in and start securing the place. Leni ventures into a room armed with a revolver but a huge, brutish vampire knocks it out ofher hand. It runs at Frank and knocks him off the balcony and faces down The Maid. Who cuts his head off. But it's body keeps going until Leni stakes it through the heart with a broken banister.
|Leni takes out the head vampire who is minus his head.|
Back with Stephen and his old plane has been delivered to the Sky Shark's base. Stephen then goes on with his maintenance work, and Wulf comes up and asks him how he is and how is Leni. Stephen tells him his woes, that he tried to have sex with Leni and has now ruined their friendship. He apologises for making scene in front of Wulf and Wulf gently says he knows things are hard for Stephen, but Wulf has something to say to him:
Wulf: "I have no time for boys games, verstehen sie? For pretending to be what I am not. I am queer Steve. You know this... and I think that you are very beautiful."
He tells Stephen that if he is attached, Wulf will look elsewhere, but "if not, I am here". And he leaves Stephen to think things over.
At the police station they discuss the events at the vampire brothel. Leni then gets called to see a woman from the science institute. She and Ramon go to the woman's - Frau Bern's - quarters and a sorry story emerges. She and her brother were part of a Nazi forced breeding experiment (with each other, Eww) to create more superheroes. Bern was involved with Panzer who thought that Gromolko was up to something bad. He is making a time machine and Panzer was killed for opposing this.
|Time travel shenanigans.|
In 1943 though, Leni punches Gromolko and starts to drag him back to the time door. She also sees the newspaper and Gromolko says in this new timeline she'll be shot for betraying the Reich. Leni says she'll return and fight it if she must and grapples Gromolko back through the door. They arrive back in the present and Leni is disorientated, Werner punches Ramon and he and Gromolko make a run for it. It is then the full newspaper headline is revealed, "Reformed Nazis on the run. Enemies of USA".
|The Sky Witch can take to the skies now.|
Frank and the Captain go to Neopolis station and think the tip-off they received about the new vampires is maybe the Morgia baiting a trap. The Captain says, undermanned as they are they'll be waiting for them and gives Frank the "honour" of running the operation and taking all the risks. Frank is happy but unsure why he gets to take all the risks. The Captain meaningfully says he knows why.
Back at the Sky Sharks base, Stephen asks Wulf if he wants to go anyplace this evening. Wulf says his apartment maybe? "Your apartment sounds good" says Stephen and they leave. The chapter ends with John Sharkey drawing lines on a map of Neopolis with targets on "Little Budapest" and "Tin Town".
After having his ear bent by the mayor over the imprisonment of his nephew by his sister, the police captain tells Frank that a lot is at stake over dealing with the incoming vampires, if they don't do the job right, Neopolis could be under martial law in 48 hours.
Leni has done an aerial sweep and found nothing wrong. The police collect outside the station and Ramon says he is glad The Maid is with them. But she admits she has to be out of town tonight, which leaves the others aghast as she is the only one the vampires fear. But she takes her leave of them nonetheless.
|Leni and Frank getting closer.|
Leni: "Do not worry Frank. I will watch out for you... if you will watch out for me."
We then cut to the vampires, gloating that The Maid will not be there tonight and that they'll easily kill all the cops now.
Outside the station, Stephen approaches Leni and apologises to her for what happened between them. He says he was trying to prove he wasn't queer. But he is, and it's scary and he could use a friend right now. But she walks off saying it's all too much for her right now.
Later, the Captain and Frank are at the train station, the Captain points out Lazlo Janek, Miroslav's replacement. The Captain thinks his arrest will be good publicity and has alerted the news to whats going on. Outside a newsman.. dog.. dogman reports on what's occuring as suddenly the skies are filled with bats.
The bats start turning human, and with most of the Neopolis police force inside the station things look grim. Stephen hears the broadcast and goes to find Wulf at the hangers. Wulf is lying on the floor bleeding, he's been shot, though not fatally. Sharkey and Lars have taken their planes and plan to bomb the robot ghetto, then the station, then North Hockney, "it is a military coup I think". He tells Stephen to stop them, "you are a young god, you are Jetlad." And Stephen runs to his plane.
|Jetlad takes to the skies.|
The vampires are quickly defeated and Leni goes to Frank whose faceplate has been ripped off and it reveals that he is in fact a robot. He tells her to go up on her broomstick and check the area, as she leaves she sees the first bombs being dropped on the robot ghetto. Up in the air, Stephen is dog fighting with the two planes. He takes out Lars, but gets hit by Sharkey.
Before Sharkey can finish him off, Leni comes riding up and fires a mini bazooka at his plane and takes it down. Gratified Stephen says over the radio, "I- I thought you didn't like me anymore." She says it's payback for the time he shot her down during the war, and she'll race him back.
|Leni saves Stephen.|
Leni: "I am not frightened. You have a good heart whatever it is made of. And this city, it is so strange. I think we must take our friends where we can find them".
We bring this tale to a close with Stephen visiting a recovering Wulf in hospital. He tells Wulf the whole "military Neopolis" idea has been dropped and Wulf is pleased. They wonder what they'll do now that the Sky Sharks are no more. Stephen thinks they can survive as flight instructors or aviation engineers.
|I love a happy ending.|
But it's a heartwarming ending because the 1980's set Top Ten series showed that only was Neopolis thriving with a well respected police force captained by Stephen but also that he and Wulf were still very happily together after thirty-plus years.
And sadly this is the last Top Ten related post I can write. Here we get a wonderful blend of superheroes, vampire mafiosa, prejudice, friendship, duty, time travel and sweet, understated love. It's really only Moore at his absolute best that can bring so many disparate elements together and make it work so confidently, and that's one of the reasons for me Top Ten will always be one of his greatest series and one I would like to see continued now he's got his boring looking epic prose novel out of his system. If you're interested in Top Ten, the twelve issue main series has now been collected in one omnibus but you're probably going to have to do what I did and hang around Amazon waiting for this one and SMAX to drop to reasonable prices. The artwork by Gene Ha is gorgeous, the decison to paint in brown and blue watercolour gives the whole piece a nostalgic period feel and like the main series, a lot of fun must have been had coming up with designs for all the science heroes pictured. If there is one thing Moore is brilliant at, it is world building in a way that doesn't patronise. He forces you to dive right in and quickly understand about the organised crime, the racist prejudice, the stress of settling into a new city and the politics it has. With this, and Top Ten proper, Neopolis is a vibrant setting for any kind of story and I wish more had been told in it. And no rape either!