Sunday, December 1, 2013

Top 10 (Ten): The Forty-Niners Hardcover Review

Top 10: The Forty-Niners
DC Comics - America's Best Comics
112 pages
$24.99 (2005) Hardcover
$17.99 (2007) Softcover
$99.99 (2013) Absolute Edition
ISBN 9781563897573

Contributors: Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Art Lyon, and Todd Klein

Publication History: Original Graphic Novel (OGN) - first released as a hardcover in 2005, then a softcover in 2007, and also included in the Top 10 Absolute Edition along with the complete first twelve-issue series.  

Synopsis: World War II has ended and the proliferation of science-heroes returning from the war has created a social panic.  All of the heroes (and their counter-part villains) are transferred to a new city being built for the sole purpose of housing them.  It is Neopolis and the strangest city on Earth.  These beings include true superhumans with augmented powers, genius-level intellects, regular humans with technological gimmicks, and even talking animals.  The city becomes the oddest melting pot of weirdos ever to be seen and with it comes an entirely new set of problems.
The first image of the city is breathtaking to say the least
Steve Traynor was known as Jetlad during the war and was the youngest pilot at age 10.  He's a genius behind the stick of an airplane, but now he's been relocated to Neopolis.  On the train over he meets an old adversary-turned-comrade, the Sky Witch, Leni Muller.  She defected to the Allies partway through the war and is also heading to live in the new city.  They share a cabin with an actual vampire and later discover vampire gangs are the primary form of organized crime in Neopolis.  The two former flyers strike up an immediate friendship while dealing with the extraordinary experiences in this experimental city.

Steve meets a nasty little vampire on the train
to Neopolis, also a robot
What do former science-heroes do once the war and their crusade to fight spies has ended?  They face a harsh reality and then start looking for work.  Vigilantes can no longer take justice into their own hands by depriving criminals their rights to due process.  Parents are bringing up child-endangerment questions to heroes with kid sidekicks.  Many of the masterminds behind Neopolis' design are former Nazis pardoned by the government in order to gain technological secrets.  Can these so-called 'reformed' criminals and murderers be trusted?  The city needs a strong police force to contain the inevitable ticking time bomb.  Enter the fledgling Neopolis Police Department (NPD).

Vampires and robots are both lumped in with the superheroes, but are very different and prolific.  The heavy concentration of vampires in Neopolis is a major threat to civil peace.  They run organized crime, are known as the Cosa Nosferatu, and thrive in the shadows.  Vampires are set to become a literal epidemic in the city if an intervention is not planned.  Robots are similarly vast in numbers, but not as overtly threatening.  A slum forms where all of the robots are housed and they instantly become the target of bigotry including use of the derogatory term 'clickers'.

Leni and Steve are not the only ones struggling to adapt to life in Neopolis.  The city soon becomes a powder keg ready to explode!  Vampire numbers swarm to threaten everyday citizens, the genocidal ex-Nazi geniuses may be hatching a plot to take over the world, and the NPD are being questioned about whether they can handle the problems of the city.  Military intervention may become a reality, but how do you police a city with jets and tanks?  The city of Neopolis undergoes a trial by fire!

Pros: Moore's writing is top notch with great characters and lots of great drama, excellent prequel to the Top 10 series which perfectly explains/elaborates on the founding of Neopolis, Gene Ha's artwork is insane! - practically every panel has little 'easter eggs' in the background (where he draws references to many other fictional pop culture characters/series), colors by Art Lyon are incredible and really elevate Ha's work to the next level, mature storyline, a few cool plot twists
Those darn ex-Nazi mad scientists are at it again!

Cons: Much shorter page count and story feels a bit rushed, plot is more simplistic compared to original series, a couple silly parts (like Private Iron)

Mike Tells It Straight: Alan Moore and Gene Ha follow up their Eisner award-winning (2000 Best New Series, 2001 Best Continuing Series) series Top 10 with this prequel original graphic novel.  It's relatively short in comparison (less than half the page count of the first series), but packs a ton of details.  Gene Ha's art is unreal in this book!  It's hyper-detailed particularly the backgrounds and he adds a huge amount of 'easter egg' (the term for hidden bonus features on a DVD) cameos of fictional pop culture characters from the time period ('50s & '60s).  I remember seeing Popeye, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Porky Pig, and a slew of others.

The art is positively dense with all the detail and makes for fun multiple readings.  I have to recommend the Absolute Edition with it's over-sized pages as the perfect format for reading this story.  Art Lyon's colors were a revelation when combined with Ha's art.  I was totally blown away.  Complete and utterly perfect synergy between the two artists.  Combined with Moore's storytelling I see how this book won the Eisner Award in 2006 for Best Graphic Album: New.

The story is definitely for mature readers and not kid stuff.  If you've read the original series then you know Steve Traynor, aka Jetman, is gay.  This prequel not only explains how Neopolis got its start, but also gives us the coming-of-age story of Jetlad.  Readers may be sensitive to the subject matter depending on their views.  I found it to be an interesting and refreshing portrayal of "superheroes".  You don't see many mainstream comics stories deal with this subject.
Full wraparound cover image for the hard and softcover editions
I can't recommend this book and the Top 10 series enough - positively one of my favorite reads of the last decade.  Alan Moore left the series after this graphic novel (and the Smax spinoff mini-series), but two more mini-series were published.  Ha returned to pencil the Second Season, but the series was very short.  I'm planning to review those in the near future - stay tuned!  In the meantime pick up the Absolute Edition and enjoy the ride.  It's undeniable to say Moore and Ha hit a grand slam together with this series.

TO BUY and Recommendations: