Alan Moore, Gene Ha & Zander Cannon Top 10 book one (2000)
Here's another title I happened upon by chance when noticing that the local library had added a graphic novel section. I'd been driven away from comics a few years earlier by the contents of Grant Morrison's navel and Garth Ennis celebrating his five-hundredth successful retelling of that story in which a man, nursing a hangover following a night of Guinness and Irish show tunes, finds himself wrestling inner demons; Top 10 seemed oddly uninviting, and it took me a long time to get around to borrowing the collection, but it left a good enough impression for me to buy the thing more recently when I stumbled across a copy in Half-Price.
I'd lost track of Alan Moore roughly around the time of From Hell - issues of which I kept missing for some reason - but assumed he'd turned his back on superheroes - excepting I suppose 1963 which seemed so far into the realms of parody that it probably didn't count. It seems I had assumed correctly, as he explained here:
At the time I thought that a book like Watchmen would perhaps unlock a lot of potential creativity, that perhaps other writers and artists in the industry would see it and would think this is great, this shows what comics can do. We can now take our own ideas and thanks to the success of Watchmen we'll have a better chance of editors giving us a shot at them. I was hoping naively for a great rash of individual comic books that were exploring different storytelling ideas and trying to break new ground.
That isn't really what happened. Instead it seemed that the existence of Watchmen had pretty much doomed the mainstream comic industry to about twenty years of very grim and often pretentious stories that seemed to be unable to get around the massive psychological stumbling block that Watchmen had turned out to be, although that had never been my intention with the work.
More recently, he expanded upon the specific details of his disillusionment with the genre:
I've recently come to the point where I think that basically most American superhero comics, and this is probably a sweeping generalisation, they're a lot like America's foreign policy. America has an inordinate fondness for the unfair fight... I believe that the whole thing about superheroes is they don't like it up them. They would prefer not to get involved in a fight if they don't have superior firepower, or they're invulnerable because they came from the planet Krypton when they were a baby. I genuinely think it's this squeamishness that's behind the American superhero myth. It's the only country where it's really taken hold. As Brits, we'll go to see American superhero films, just like the rest of the world, but we never really created superheroes of our own.
Nevertheless, as is probably obvious, before too long he came crawling back with the America's Best Comics imprint, and so at the risk of reviewing by quotation:
When I was working upon the ABC books, I wanted to show different ways that mainstream comics could viably have gone, that they didn't have to follow Watchmen and the other 1980s books down this relentlessly dark route. It was never my intention to start a trend for darkness. I'm not a particularly dark individual. I have my moments, it's true, but I do have a sense of humor. With the ABC books I was trying to do comics that would have perhaps appealed to an intelligent thirteen-year-old, such as I'd been, and would still satisfy the contemporary readership of forty-year-old men who probably should know better. But I wanted to sort of do comics that would be accessible to a much wider range of people, and would still be intelligent even if they were primarily children's adventure stories.
So there you go.
Top 10, not entirely unlike Marshal Law, presents a variation on an old Simpsons Comics storyline in which the atomic power plant inadvertently irradiates the entire population of Springfield turning everyone into caped superheroes, or at least there's so many of them walking, flying, or swimming around as to negate the prodigal implication of the super suffix. Possibly this is why Moore dubs the inhabitants of his sprawling Neopolis science-heroes - they may have strange, unearthly powers, but so does everyone else, and they're so regular they could have been written by Harvey Pekar.
Whilst Marshal Law bends the genre over for a prune juice enema it will never forget, Top 10 is an altogether more gentle affair - sort of like Moore's Bojeffries Saga rewritten as Hill Street Blues with superheroes - packed with gritty blue collar detail, yet very funny without feeling the need to pull Lenny Henry comedy faces. Because it's always easier to dissect a flaw than a virtue, it's actually quite difficult to know what to say about Top 10 once we're past motivation, secret origins, and descriptions of what it isn't, not least because it's so unassuming. There's no big message; it just tells a story - or rather several stories simultaneously - and leaves the reader reminded of how much fun superhero comics could be before Moore unwittingly ruined it for everyone with Watchmen - by his own testimony - and had to re-reinvent them all over again.
Weirdly, I think this might be one of the best things Alan Moore has ever written, and before I forget, the art is absolutely sublime.