Sunday, November 10, 2013

Top 10 (Ten) Book Two Hardcover Review

Top 10 Vol. 2
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
144 pages
$14.95 (2001) Trade Paperback
$24.95 (2002) Hardcover
$99.99 (2013) Absolute Edition
ISBN 9781563898761

Contributors: Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon, Alex Sinclair, Wildstorm FX, and Todd Klein

Reprints: Top 10 #8-12 (of 12)

Synopsis: Neopolis is a city like no other on Earth.  It was built to accommodate the legions of science-heroes (and their counter-part villains) born out of the World War II conflict.  Designed by ex-Nazis with their leftover plans for a new Reich filled with ubermensch (supermen) or in this case science-heroes, super-villains, talking animals, vampires, mutants, robots, and even demi-gods.  Imagine a city where everyone has powers or some kind of ability - from the highest ranking socialite to the lowliest street urchin.  What happens when the uncanny becomes the mundane?

A teleporter accident snarls up morning traffic.  It's no joke as
the parties involved are in a grave situation.  Notice the many
cameo appearances - Man-Bat, Valkyrie from the New Mutants,
The Falcon, The Vulture, The Black Racer, who else!?
The greatest problem facing Neopolis is how to maintain order among a group of self-proclaimed vigilantes, outlaws, and former super-villains.  Crimes still occur, but the degree of complexity increases exponentially in a city of super-beings.  The Neopolis Police Department was created to answer this call and eventually hooked up with a multiversal peace-keeping force as their 10th Precinct - Top 10 for short.  Our first introduction to Neopolis and Top 10 is through the eyes of Robyn 'Toybox' Slinger who is the newest rookie on the force.  She is partnered with the gruff powerhouse Jeff Smax who is unfriendly on a good day and worse all of the other times.  Fortunately most of the officers are much nicer and help show her the ropes.

King Peacock heads to Grand Central in order
to follow a lead in the mysterious death of a
drug courier
They include Kemlo 'Hyperdog' Caesar, Irma 'Irmageddon' Wornow, Jackie 'Jack Phantom' Kowalski, Duane 'Dust Devil' Bodine, and John 'King Peacock' Corbeau among others.  Neopolis still faces many common urban problems - teleportation accidents (called 'jump-bumps' and very messy), 'Goose Juice' drug use (makes the users move faster than the human eye can follow and appear invisible), domestic violence, bigotry focused on sentient robots (aka 'clickers'), and traffic accidents (one driver, Bob 'Blindshot' Booker, is really blind and uses 'zen' senses to drive as a cabbie in Neopolis - bad idea!).

The murder investigation in the previous volume escalates to endanger the entire precinct as the perpetrator is revealed.  One of Top 10's officers dies and is inevitably replaced with a new recruit.  The super-mouse infestation at Dust Devil's mother's apartment escalates to cosmic proportions putting the multiverse in peril.  The apprehension of the Libra Killer leads to an even bigger conspiracy which threatens to shock Neopolis to its foundations.  How will Toybox fare in the turmoil and can even the powerful Smax make a difference?
The situation at Dust Devil's mother's apartment
escalates to cosmic proportions with the
super-mice and super-cats 

Pros: Moore writes a rich story with great characters, Ha's art is detailed and complex - the little cameos of popular culture fictional characters are really fun, neat concept of a city completed populated by superheroes, all of the various sub-plots from the first volume are resolved, masterfully classic and won Eisner award for Best Continuing Series in 2001

Cons: Dialogue-heavy, a lot of different characters and sub-plots to keep track of, ending to main underlying murder plot was somewhat abrupt and felt like the series ended abruptly (i.e. why didn't it keep going?)

Mike Tells It Straight: The final volume of Alan Moore's and Gene Ha's classic superhero trope ties up all the loose ends of the first volume.  Moore is definitely at his best in this series and it's a mix of crime drama, superheroes, and comedy.  I was surprised at how funny and creative this series has been with Ha's hilarious 'easter egg' cameos of popular culture fictional characters - from Lost in Space to the X-Men's Age of Apocalypse plus the situations/interactions of the various officers.

Cover to trade paperback
The art is excellent and completely matches the story - Ha delivers dense visuals and gets better with each successive issue.  I must say this series is the perfect blend of writing and art. I particularly liked the teleporter accident issue, King Peacock's trip to Precinct 1 (aka Grand Central where the Roman Empire never fell), and the super-mouse infestation at Dust Devil's mother's apartment which plays out as a cosmic superhero crossover complete with Galactapuss (cat version of Galactus).  Classic stuff and totally hilarious.  The murder sub-plot from the first volume gets resolved in truly epic fashion and the final issue is a restart of sorts as a new officer, a sentient robot named Joe Pi, joins the force.

Cover to Absolute Edition
This series won two Eisner awards and I wish it continued longer under Alan Moore's writing.  A second volume called 'Season Two' ran with Zander Cannon at the helm (the guy's a multi-talented creator who can write, draw, ink, and probably color too).  Moore and Ha produced a prequel volume called Top 10: The Forty Niners which was absolutely amazing.  It's collected with the recent Absolute Edition and I'll recommend that particular version as the perfect presentation of the series.  Ha's art shines in the over-sized, glossy-paper format and it includes all his work on the series.  I can't recommend this series enough as refreshing and unique take on the superhero genre.  I'm hesitant to read the follow up series (Forty-Niners aside) for fear of what happens to these now-beloved characters.  Moore and Ha instill such humanity in them that the reader can't help but feel a connection.  Stay tuned for more!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Top 10 (Ten) Book One Hardcover Review

Top 10 Vol. 1
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
208 pages
$17.95 (2001) Trade Paperback
$24.95 (2000) Hardcover
$99.99 (2013) Absolute Edition
ISBN 9781563896576

Contributors: Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon, Barbara Schulz, Wildstorm FX, Todd Klein, and cover to #1 by Alex Ross

Reprints: Top 10 #1-7 (of 12)

Synopsis: During World War II the first science-heroes emerged to combat the apocalyptic menace of the Third Reich.  They were met by a smattering of science-villains and experiments from the Axis side.  When the war finally ended and the heroes (and villains) attempted to assimilate back into society they were the cause of enormous social tensions.  In answer to the rising difficulties between regular citizens and science-heroes the concept of Neopolis was born.  This new city was built to house all of the extraordinary and strange beings - science-heroes, super-villains, talking animals, vampires, mutants, robots, and even demi-gods.  Imagine a city where everyone has powers or some kind of ability - from the socialites to the lowest street urchins.  What happens when the uncanny becomes the mundane?
Smax and Toybox investigate a murder
at a bar for gods

The greatest problem faced by Neopolis' radioactive melting pot was how to maintain order among a group of self-proclaimed vigilantes, outlaws and former villains.  Crimes occur, but the degree of complexity increases exponentially in a city of super-beings.  The Neopolis Police Department was created for just this purpose and eventually hooked up with a multiversal peace-keeping pantheon as their 10th Precinct - Top 10 for short.  The officers of Neopolis are varied and capable.  They've seen it all and know how to handle things by the book.  The current roster is:

  • Robyn 'Toybox' Slinger is the latest recruit to the precinct and commands an assortment of automaton toys built by her father, 'Captain Lilliput'.  He's a former science-hero who retired and suffers from Alzheimer's.  Robyn joined the police force to honor her father.  She gets partnered with the hulking Jeff Smax who looks intimidating and has a gruff personality. 
  • Jeff Smax is still mourning the loss of his previous partner, Stochastic Fats.  Smax is anti-social and difficult to get along with, but one of the most powerful officers.  He's invulnerable, super strong, and emits a force-beam from his chest.  He initially gives Robyn a rough time, but slowly accepts her as his new partner.  
  • Duane 'Dust Devil' Bodine is a steampunk cowboy with enhanced boots and huge revolvers.  He has an elderly mother who is a human lie-detector so he had a strict upbringing.  
  • Peter 'Shock-Headed Pete' Cheney is like a human power-battery and wields electrical powers.  He's young, inexperienced, socially awkward, and highly bigoted towards robots.
  • Kemlo 'Hyperdog' Caesar is an intelligent doberman who wears a robotic exoskeleton under regular human clothing.  He's an experienced officer, ranked a sergeant, and runs the morning briefings.
  • John 'King Peacock' Corbeau is a devil-worshiper following the Yazidi religion.  He speaks to his god, Melek Taus, who resides in all physical matter.  King Peacock can ascertain the attributes and critical points in his immediate surroundings.  
  • Wanda 'Synaesthesia' Jackson can sense the world with multiple senses simultaneously and bordering on clairvoyance.  It comes in handy as a police detective.  She used to date Smax, but they broke up.
  • Jackie 'Jack Phantom' Kowalski can turn intangible and pass through objects.  She's an open lesbian and a lot of fun at parties.
  • Sung 'Girl One' Li is an artificial woman created to be the perfect human specimen.  She has enhanced physical and mental abilities along with the ability to control her skin pigments at will (like a chameleon).  
  • Irma 'Irmageddon' Wornow is armed to the teeth in a a battlesuit whose armaments include automatic weapons, missiles, and even a tactical nuke.  
  • Steve 'Jetman' Traynor is captain of Top 10 and very experienced.  He's a former ace pilot and highly respected by all of his officers.  

When Smax busts the son of a giant '50s
monster (who has since become a drunk)
the whole city is in peril
Neopolis still faces many problems including the Cosa Nosferatu - organized crime vampire families, widespread robot discrimination - derisively called 'clickers', enhanced substances - Mongoose Blood (or Goose Juice) among others, an invisible pervert called the 'Ghostly Goose', and a serial killer known as Libra who decapitates victims.  Come follow the officers of Top 10 as they attempt to keep the peace in the most amazing city in the world!

Pros: Moore writes an intriguing and rich story with excellent characters, funny and mature!, Ha's art is incredibly complex - he draws utterly dense and fascinating panels with cameos by famous pop-culture figures everywhere he could get away with it!, excellent concept perfectly executed, masterfully classic and won Eisner award for Best New Series in 2000

Cons: Heavy on the dialogue and a lot of different characters/sub-plots to follow, Ha's art is not flashy

Mike Tells It Straight: Moore delivers a masterful concept of the superhero metropolis fully-realized by Ha's detailed artwork.  He brings us down to street level by focusing on the police officers of the city.  This book is a character piece with an extensive cast which can be hard to follow at times, but overall brought a humanity to the typical heroics found in a superhero book.  Toybox was the perfect character to focus the reader's introduction to Neopolis and Top 10.  We meet and learn about the various officers of the precinct through her rookie eyes.

This book's art is dense with Ha and Cannon doing an amazing job portraying the city and all of its denizens.  Ha sneaks in dozens of cameos from popular fictional characters (like 'easter eggs' from dvds, but for comics) from The Simpsons to Santa Claus.  It's incredible and perfectly balances Moore's complicated writing.  Top 10 is a unique superhero book with a lot of drama, crime and a surprising amount of genuinely funny moments.  Moore writes comedy as well as his serious work and its all evident in this book.  One of my favorite sub-plots is Dust Devil's mom's super-powered rodent infestation.  Classic stuff.
Cover to trade paperback

He presents a lot of real-life police moments such as domestic violence, breaking up a rave, and busting hookers turning tricks.  All of the situations become fantastic with the superhuman element thrown in - like all the ravers are on 'goose juice' which makes them move faster than the human eye and the room looks empty!  The sub-plots extend into multiple issues with a random death becoming a bigger story later on.  The main story in this first volume is the hunt for the Libra Killer which is pretty interesting.  This series is unique and highly recommended.  Moore is at his best in terms of characterization and sheer fun.  It's not as serious as Watchmen by any means, but I really enjoyed everything about the book.  An Absolute Edition was recently released and it's definitely the way to go in terms of art appreciation for Ha's detailed work.  Pick it up!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Promethea Book One Hardcover Review

Promethea Vol. 1
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
176 pages
$24.95 (2000) Hardcover
$14.95 (2000) Trade Paperback
$99.00 (2009) Absolute Edition Vol. 1
ISBN 9781563896675

Contributors: Alan Moore, J.H. Williams III, Charles Vess, Mick Gray, Nick Bell, Alex Sinclair, Jeremy Cox, Digital Chameleon, Wildstorm FX, cover to issue #1 by Alex Ross, and Todd Klein

Reprints: Promethea #1-6

Synopsis: The time is 1999 and the place is a New York City which has evolved with the benefit of science heroes.  Anti-grav cars prowl the streets and flying vehicles patrol the skies with searchlights.  The skyline is filled with garish neon signs advertising the latest and greatest consumer products.  It is a time of technology and capitalist reasoning.  Sophie Bangs is a college student struggling to dig up material for her research paper based on a fictional character called Promethea.  Her best friend Stacia mocks her relentlessly for choosing such an obscure subject before skipping off to a rock concert.

Sophie goes through a trial of fire
to become Promethea!
Sophie is utterly fascinated by the apparent myth of Promethea - a figure referenced in 18th century poetry and later given the spotlight in pulp comics.  She attempts to interview Barbara Shelley, the wife of the last publisher of the Promethea comic book, but gets shut down.  Barbara gives Sophie the cold shoulder and issues a cryptic warning: "You don't wanna go looking for folklore.  And you especially don't want folklore to come looking for you."

On her way to meet up with Stacia, Sophie is attacked by a strange shadow-creature who defies reason.  At the last second she's saved by a woman dressed in oddly Hellenistic attire.  She explains the history of Promethea, but gets severely wounded by the creature.  Somehow Sophie is able to harness the power of Promethea and saves the day, but what is the price of her newfound abilities?  If Promethea is an idea then can an idea overtake a person's will?  Sophie grapples with a reality mixed with mythological concepts.

It seems Promethea has garnered many enemies over the years and they begin coming out of obscurity to test Sophie as the latest incarnation.  In her naive state can Sophie survive their attacks?  The shadow-creature was just the beginning as demons, storybook characters, and a rogue magician come after Sophie.  Promethea resides in a strange realm called the Immateria where everything is malleable as fictional ideas dictate reality.

Promethea returns to witness a very different New York City
Pros: Complex panel layouts and creative imagery by Williams, Moore plots an interesting take on the superheroine by mixing her with a goddess of ideas possessing a rich fictional history, nominated for a ton of Eisner Awards in 2000 including Best Continuing Series and Best New Series (this was won by another Alan Moore ABC title - Top Ten), Charles Vess shows up to draw the origin of one of the Prometheas, Little Red Riding Hood was pretty badass, Weeping Gorilla is so emo

Cons: The Immateria seems a bit like The Dreaming (the realm of dreams) from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Sophie's plight takes a backseat to exploring the origin of several past incarnations of Promethea, this volume is purely setup for more stories to come and I'm wondering if the entire series will be like this?

Stacia falls prey to the utterly depressing Weeping Gorilla
Mike Tells It Straight: Alan Moore's Promethea has garnered a lot of praise and artist J.H. Williams recently finished a smoldering run on Batwoman.  This series has a lot of hype attached to it and I finally sat down with the first volume to give it a thorough reading.  The first six issues essentially set up the foundation of the series by introducing the history of Promethea and having Sophie become the latest incarnation.  We are taken to the Immateria and given the origin of Promethea along with meeting all of the previous incarnations.  It's a somewhat high concept character and reminded me of James Robinson's Starman mixed with Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.  Williams art is great with intricate panel designs and nice use of shadows.  His work reminds me of Tony Harris (Starman, Ex Machina) and I can definitely see a lot of potential in this early work (similar to John Cassaday's early work on Desperadoes).
Trade Paperback cover to volume one

Promethea was chosen as the second series to be reprinted as an Absolute Edition (after The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) from Moore's America's Best Comics line.  I definitely attribute this fact to Williams' rise as a prominent artist.  The plot had some cool concepts and I was glad to see something outside of the traditional/mundane superhero fare, but I didn't think the work was quite as profound in this first volume.  I would have liked less high concept and more focus on Sophie as the new Promethea.  I'm not looking forward to more trips to the Immateria and felt revealing all of the past incarnations was premature.  A slow reveal would have given them more impact and diversity.  I do like the mature aspects of the story and mythical elements.  It was a complicated first volume and garnered enough of my interest to check out the next one.

TO BUY and Recommendations: