New Reader Friendly: Moore, Ha and Cannon’s “Top Ten” is a Superhero/Procedural Mash-Up For Everyone

Every week, this feature will share a recent complete, collected story that acts as a great introduction to the comic art form for new readers. After all, we’re in a time of growth, but for many readers, the biggest issue isn’t whether or not they want to read comics, it’s figuring out which ones they want to read. That’s where New Reader Friendly jumps in, hoping to guide readers both new and old to comics that are good and easy to pick up for anyone.

Everyone has their favorite story by the big comic creators. There’s no universal favorite, as you can find Jack Kirby fans who favor Fantastic Four and others who prefer his Fourth World work, or Grant Morrison followers who love his more beguiling work like The Invisibles while others are all about his straightforward stories like JLA. Comic creators often take their work in a lot of different directions, and that can give fans of all varieties something to love.

Alan Moore’s one of the best examples of the difficulties that come with deciding a universal favorite. Sure, he did Watchmen, one of the most beloved comics ever, but that guy has one of the most immensely impressive libraries of work of any comic creator ever. Even if you broke his work down by era, you’d have a tough time. Think about that span where he created America’s Best Comics. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tom Strong AND Prometheus at the same time? The guy’s a monster. For me, my favorite Moore work of all time came from that era, but it was the one that is arguably the least beloved from that line: Top 10. While it may have won the 2001 Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series (which was an odd win in of itself, given that it was a 12 issue series), I think if you ask most Moore fans which of the four they preferred, Top 10 would come up the least often.

Top 10 #1Not for me though. At the time of release, that book blew my mind. While it’s a pretty straightforward story that blended superheroics into a procedural cop structure, its simple setup belies a veritable Russian nesting doll level of depth. At its core, it’s the story of the police force (specifically Precinct Ten, or Top 10 as they’re known as) of Neopolis – a city that is part of a series of worlds that are filled with science heroes – and what happens after a new cop joins the force in Robyn “Toybox” Slinger. But it’s a lot more sprawling that.

It has an enormous cast, almost all of whom have fascinating identities built in, and the story itself folds all into itself to create a rather intoxicating and surprising read, all over 12 issues. Its art is absolutely the cream of the crop as well, with Gene Ha and Zander Cannon pairing up to give the world of Neopolis and its players a robust infusion of life. Not only that, but DC recently released a new collection for the book, delivering the whole series in one package with bonus materials even thrown in.

A superhero/procedural mash up with great art that can be picked up all in one collection that tells a complete story? This comic is perfect for new readers.

It’s actually staggering that, 15 years later, this book hasn’t somehow been turned into a TV show. Part of that may be Moore’s general distrust of TV and movie deals given his experience, but Top 10 is such a great fit for new readers because of its very familiar structure. Each of the 12 issues has a very similar setup to any number of popular TV shows, with different cases running through each episode, ultimately culminating in a grand finale that wraps all of the stories up with a nice little bow. While cop shows would be what most would think of when it comes to Top 10, something like Veronica Mars has a very similar structure in its own right – each story there’s a case that helps build to a final conclusion – except Top 10 is an ensemble cast rather than one that has its focus on a singular lead.

But this comic isn’t a recommended read for new readers simply because of familiarity. It’s also just a damn good book. One of my favorite things about this new collection that DC/Vertigo released of the title – besides finally having the whole series in one collection – was reading about how important the art was to the story. I knew it was, as Ha and Cannon give the book much of its life and personality, realizing the often bizarre and unpredictable world of Neopolis in the best possible ways. However, in the back of the collection, Ha talks about his character designs, and the character of Girl One’s write-up was of particular interest to me. Ha’s design for the character – who actually is naked all of the time, but she shifts the pigments of her skin around to cover her body – was only an aesthetic choice at first, but Moore ended developing it into a plot point in the story. It’s things like that that help make this book feel as organically developed as it does. The art informs the writing and the writing informs the art, and it drives a dense, fascinating world on both a macro and micro scale (it’s a blast just looking through the book and picking out some of the surprising details they work in).

Great Black and WhiteHa and Cannon help give the book much of its emotional depth, as stories like the highly regarded one featuring a collision between a Great Gamer (think a gigantic chess piece of a cosmic being) and an unsuspecting couple during a teleportation gone wrong are as impactful as they are thanks to the sadness and complexity they’re able to deliver visually. You see that later on as well, in moments like the one where Irma Geddon finally breaks down to her new partner Joe Pi because of recent events within their squad. These two artists are master storytellers, and they help elevate this book into a transcendent one.

Moore’s ability to juggle storylines and character beats in this book show off why he’s one of the greatest ever to work in comics. The amount of story and depth in this book is staggering, truly, as you could almost read the book in several different ways because of how much he bakes in. Want to read it as a satire that makes fun of much of the superhero and science hero world it’s borrowing from? Go right ahead. Prefer to read it as a straight cop story? Easy enough. It’s a simple read if you want it to be or you can spend time digging into the layers it has within its pages. This book is a sumptuous, versatile comic for readers of all different varieties.

His work with characters is also stellar. Many of the characters are reversals on expectations, as you have cops like Duane “Dust Devil” Bodine, a good ol’ boy cowboy, as one of hte most understanding, non judgmental people on the force, and one who accepts people of all varieties. It’s fun reading through the story and seeing each character’s story progress, with Jeff Smax – Slinger’s partner – having the most layers peeled back on, which makes it unsurprising that Moore and Cannon eventually delved into him more in a follow-up mini-series. These characters may belong to certain archetypes, but as we’ve seen in the past, Moore is a master at manipulating those and using them against readers to surprise and excite.

Top 10 is funny and it can be very dark. There are times where the ideas can disgust you or challenge your mind. It can be poetic or downright juvenile. It’s a comic that feels like it has so many different angles and complexities to it that it could be confusing, but really, it isn’t because the creative team excels at making a story as intricate and natural feeling as humanity itself.

Top 10 is a splendid treat, and it’s a book that can be picked up and enjoyed by readers both new and old and ones looking for either a simple or complicated read. Truly, your mileage may vary depending on what you yourself are looking for from it. One way or another, it’s a book that is hard not to love, and has only gotten better with each additional read. For readers of all varieties, this book gets the heartiest of recommendations from me.