Book 'em, Kemlo: An Overview of Top Ten, Season One
By Andrew Luke
(Research Assistance by Yat Cheung)
A subway ride. A ghost listens to a woman of flesh converse about her relationship in hurried non-content shorthand. A girl on her way to a new job rests the head of a pensioner who sleeps on her shoulder. A tall, loud man chats to his sweetheart via mobile phone as the train pulls to a stop. These conversations come and go, a mother dragging her daughter off to be replaced by others, gladly clad, asking for a new see-through prism cape. "All the other girls at school have one". Two superheroes discuss a football game. The pensioner replaced by a(nother) costumed sort takes up residence on Robyn Slinger's other shoulder. At the far end of the carriage, a staff is held by a mage-like figure who opens a book and begins reading.
This is the first page of Top Ten.
And with the turning of that first leaf, and each successive turn, the characters look more and more unusual and the pacing just gets faster and faster. Moore, Ha, Cannon and all put so much detail, into each of the players, whether they're there for one panel or for every issue.
Top Ten concerns itself with the employees of Pike Street's Precinct Ten, Neopolis. Neopolis, much like Millennium City, is a grand cluster of skyscrapers, bridges, teleporters, autorails and inner-city freeways, designed by nazi villains and mad scientists. "A four storey car park designed by a varied committee including Ray Bradbury, Fritz Lang and Zeus...(it) connects the city's different levels, in a tide of vehicles whose lurid colourings and fins and spines suggest a river seething with fantastic and primordial fish". "A fantastic place" according to Officer Slinger. "A toilet" according to Officer Jeff Smax.
The first booklet concerns itself with Robyn Slinger's first day on the job, and serves as an introduction to other officers in the precinct, a sampling of the criminal fraternity and those that get caught inbetween.
"I like her...she smells sorta like wind chimes", remarks a sensory adept. The captain also welcomes her warmly mentioning how he has worked with her father. In fact, it seems like everybody likes Robyn, the enthusiastic and competent junior. And indeed, Moore and Ha communicate all the officers as a warm, likeable bunch. Everybody except Officer Smax, a bad-tempered moody behemoth. Probably the 'shoot first ask questions later' type. The type Robyn has the misfortune to get partnered with.
In the first story, the officers tackle a domestic, a homicide, prostitutes, an invisible pervert and an interrogation going horribly wrong. There are dead partners, ex-dates, quiet religious tension and family tradition. Hell, they even have the pain in the butt lawyer to contend with.
This is indicative of Top Ten, perhaps the title refers to the gear Big Al writes this book at.
The broad range of characters and the must-fast move construction of sets provide Ha, Cannon and Klein the opportunity to invent and invent, so many angles. Sometimes on four panel pages, Ha and Cannon seem to struggle with the sheer mammoth-like proportions. This is a project which thrives on visual detail so my guessed estimate is that they've taken the right track. All the characters are familiar yet appeal in their similar triggering reader-viewer's imagination potential. If you don't go bury your head in the popcorn or cyclopedia you could be acting your own Top Ten adventures in waiting for the next issue.
Wildstorm FX provide the colours: mostly a grim, monotone grey smell of corrugated iron, petrol fumes and damp cigarette butts. An occasional dazzle, flash of light exploding like a fracture in the copper pipes spectrum from the dimmer tinted background.
Top 10 is full of interesting creations, Sung-Li aka Girl One is one example. With bio-engineered skin, the naked officer moves her pigments around at will to provide the reader with a jolly good show changing per panel from flourescents to metallics to Lichtenstein pop art. Another is the lawyer, Mr. Fischmann,a literal shark:-
'Blind Justice' is a slower show than the pilot, freeing up more space for Moore's ER style soap opera. God, 'soap opera', what a tacky phrase. Even 'domestic serial' doesn't exactly do justice to the fantasy science trying to be achieved her. Focussing on three, four character case studies means the pacing is rapid and the panels look a lot less crowded than before. Zander Cannon’s layouts providing point to point to create a good running film, flowing arrangement of successives. Gene Ha fills in the details and gives focus so effortlessly and playfully , figures draw with screaming ease and the players invested with just the right amount of attitude and emotion.
'Internal Affairs' extends that 'another status quo episode but damn, ain't it exquisite' feel,. Ha and Cannon continue to play architectures of Neopolis, filling the skyline with all the vastness of EuroDisney's biggest rollercoaster, while Mr. Moore contents himself writing gripping whatsgoingons. Splendid social interaction and many a sneaky background gag. (something of a running delightful aspect) This integrated approach can be very much explained by Zander Cannon himself, "I try to keep the artwork from calling attention to itself, and make the reader focus on the characters and the story".
There are several running storylines (patterns as opposed to arcs), and always an element of gentle plot-thread humour running through every episode.. For example, one incident sees Officer Cathy Peregrine get caught between a wall and a rapidly inflating insurance salesman! T10 isn’t much of a comic to dwell on from a student perspective, it's just the nature of the beast. You can take ad breaks, but this is compulsive viewing. It's tough to write about, because there is so much I want to tell you but can't, because there are surprises to be spoilt should I do so. It's not that you need to read every issue (although I recommend it), 'tis more a case of you have to read two or three issues in a row, to gain satisfaction, or multiple satisfaction.
Many of the stories tie up quietly, so like other Moore yarns, it's the journey that counts. With #5, 'Great Infestations', the bearded one ties up a major storyline, and writes about a lot of explosions, as well as starting new threads and speeding others along. However there is still space for Moore to throw in some warming human interaction:-
Moore and Cannon have made the necessary changes to the storyboard making the frames much more functional in purpose. Cannon is doing a splendid job, using space sensibly, wisely, thus delivering the goods in a well-wrapped 'Handle With Care' package. The decoration of an all-year round festival, Ha makes fertile balance-orientated spell, seasoned. Top Ten does look aged, but only suggestive of the team's experience and maturity.
Todd Klein, the letterer of this book works on many of Moore's background poster gags in addition to designing the look of the sounds. This series is immensely character-driven. Robots and ex-Godzilla foes get their own fonts, and Officer Jackie ‘Jacks Phantom’ Kowalski, a phasing character with facilities much like the X-Men's Kitty Pryde, is also given this attention to detail. When the layouts are designed, Kowalski is roughed in, but it is only after the background and full art has been drawn that Kowalski is sketched. The production team then place the separate image onto the finished page, to create a transparency so that both the character and her direct background can be viewed. Together with the ABC colourists (I would assume) her letters fade in and out of visual range. Much like the character whatever her backdrop. Superb.
#6-#7 are among the more accessible issues of the series. Moore tells a complete tale, yet still manages enough space to include the five or six running subplots in each issue. So, Andrew, I appreciate your ability not to spoil the surprise for us but man, you've got to give us some detail! We need something to go on, okay? I hear you voice. In #6, five officers are on the case of arresting Santa, while in #7 Officers Smax, Slinger and Detective ‘Synaesthesia’ Jackson investigates the murder of a god. 'Mythdemeanours' is a clever and humorous little piece Moore tells with his usual sensibilities and has a lot of fun with the dialogue:
"Truly you cops are everywhere alike, one unto another."
"Why are you not smiting someone for this?"
"Thunor, my son, sit you down and still your tongue. It is the mead which speaks, not thee..."
Todd Klein too, really gets a chance to shine and smile with this one. Ha excels at drawing these olde giants. They look to be the true legends of sagas and epics: helped as much by perfect inks. ABC's colouring support, Wildstorm FX who are more spot-on than usual (and bear in mind that their work on Top 10 singles them out as the martial artists of colourists). Zander Cannon too, with his keen technical mind proves again and again why he is one of the most spectacular layout artists in the business. The team plant their cameras in many of-wonder areas and #7 is probably one of my favourite comics of last year. (And I read a lot of bloody good comics last year.)
#8, 'The Overview' opens with a splash page of Lieutenant Peregrine flying over Neopolis. It's a lovely page. Deluxe. A fine example of the amount of detail Gene Ha, really brought out to the max. Together with the premium strength colouring by Wildstorm FX this is equal with if not surpassing the better painted work of Charles Vess or Phil Winslade. Yumola!
Focussing on a particular officer's day as much of Top 10 attempts to do, this issue centres on Peregrine as she attempts to sort out a major traffic accident involving teleporters. The situation (ludicrous on a par with the inflatable insurance salesman) should be more humorous, or would be under Giffen and DeMatteis. Yet Moore and Ha play it as tragedy, highlighting grief and loss. Cannon's layouts to these scenes seem at first distracted, disorganised, distant. As if we're looking back at a replacement layout artist. Then I realise this was becoming more structured. The quality of layouts moving at a different pace from the rest of the plot threads. Like the sensitive officer on scene or the doomed victim trying to come to terms with the death of mortal hope. It's also loaded with imagery that will possibly take repeated readings/viewings over a long period of time to figure it out. The keen comic booklet reader will also greatly appreciate Gene Ha's intricate crowd scenes: a real good one for sitting around with a bunch of mates trying to reference or name all the characters included. One of the better meditations on the abyss.
With the following issue, Cannon's layered backgrounds obviously suit Ha's need to fill every orifice of the scantily clad artboard with inks imitated grit and grime, extremes within specifics, guidance beams and people, real people. Between them and the FX team they easily surpass anything Alex Ross has ever done (and I do like Alex's work, how couldn't I?) There is too much going on in Top 10 and I mean that in that it is a most pleasant book(let). Each tale takes place within the timeframe of one to three days and each successive issue in close proximity. 'Rules of Engagement' takes place over thirty-six hours and it goes right to the edge of Top 10's hypothetical problem, in that it is almost boring, predictable. With too much and not enough going on, no focus but many aspects of focus as a great calm before the great storm In truth, it sets up what is to come and dreams take form from everywhere's clues.
#10 is like watching a person we know step into the path of a rapidly approaching car in full-blown horrible slow motion. We know it's coming due to some serious hints, we see it played out before our eyes and we're totally, totally powerless to stop it. All we can do is run around our homes lighting candles and praying to our various deities. I've never before been so affected by or shall forget the death of a comic booklet character, with so much vividness. Mind-shattering, this exploitation of cliche/stereotype. The death of Gwen Stacey’s dilemma pales in comparison, and it makes me sad. (There’s goes rational and analytical) Growing up in Northern Ireland with a father who was police, I recall picking up on that from a very early age. I’d watch TV news, or radio news, with my mom, the neon glow I didn’t understand, and suspected terrorism to come across in the form of a report on his shooting. It didn’t., although it is an accepted risk inherent in police work. #10-#11 reflect this very well, as the viewer follows the partner of a deceased officer as a homicide case is tackled: an insight also provided into the character of Smax, who prior to the first booklet, witnessed the death of his partner. We are familiar by now with the officer killed and with several family members of the cast. Thank god for the fiction-barrier. #11 also introduces Joe Pi, a replacement officer who looks like a transformer. Situation mirrors Issue One (Slinger’s induction) in full tone, and the fact that “Joe” is as fully rounded a character as the rest makes for some very paradoxically ‘human’ moments. Moore’s gang pulls off a difficult task: following a conflict apex with a tale just as fulfilling and of utility. No trademark character, in terms of the whole is lost. Jesse Custer is just one of many guest stars making an appearance, delivering the sermon at the deceased officer’s funeral.
From the beige and auburn tones depicting the (titanium chipped) wood of Neopolis PD, its columns, panelling sweeping to the silver (computer) paint’s components of the building foundation. The step parade of the more finely detailed in visibility characters – arranged, different destinations, readiness signalled to take to the blurb, title: “Court On The Street”. Dealing with the public relations to private (seen and not seen), it is a much more subtle piece than the previous entries. Strange, for the character action has as many guns and explosions as shocks and surprises. The viewer is left out of this perspective and is called to do so much more detective work. Following the cops around, definitive judgement call. At time of writing considering #12 my jury is out although there is, a definite sense of finality to it.
I’m stuck with a conclusion for this piece. Top 10’s ‘suspension’ (as it were), to a season of twelve issues is due to the fact that every member of the creative team have for the most put in as much to this series as they possibly could. Speaks volumes. No casual remarks, this is a classic, this is one of the enjoying comic book series I have ever seen. Top Ten is Top Dog.
Bangor, Northern Ireland.
Andrew Luke writes and lives in Bangor, Northern Ireland with a packet of cigarettes and too many books he hasn't read. He has previously written for Silver Bullet Comics, Bugpowder, Borderline, Tripwire and Comics International, and updates TRS2 five times a week. His current project is a History assignment which is due in in two days. Just go back and read the article, 'kay?
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