"Once described as a 'strontium wedding cake', Neopolis
as it is now brings to mind more a four-story,
car-pound designed by a varied committee including Ray
Bradbury, Fritz Lang and Zeus. The traffic gushes back
and forth along the four-lane spiral freeway that
connects the city's different levels, in a tide of
vehicles whose lurid colorings and fins and spines
suggest a river seething with fantastic and primordial
fish. At the crossings, in the red light pauses,
recent model robots, some no more than 10 years from
the date of their manufacture, trundle out to clean
the windshields of the exhaust antlered Stagmobiles
and sparkling Terrificars."
Top Ten is one of the great books put out by ABC
comics and its one-man svengali Alan Moore. It is
arguably the most science-fictional genre book ever
put out. It doesn't just have science-fictional ideas;
it has every science-fictional idea good, bad, silly,
indifferent that has probably ever been imagined, as
reduced and reseen through both pulps and comics. It
has parallel worlds (Our home city Neopolis, in a kind
of sarcastic aside about DC's multiple Earths, is just
one city of Many Earths) populated by Roman Gods,
sentient AIs, and others. It features interstellar
travel, interstellar species, and a busy (sometimes
dangerous) teleportation. It features not only
your basic telepathy, but people with synesthesia,
precogs, and even Stochastic Fats. Bioengineered bots,
mecha-hybrids, and lamprey-legged thingies dot the
landscape. If ever placed in the Neopolis, Jeremy
Rifkin would faint dead away. And it has your basic
Superhero 101 templates: genetically designed gals
(and their oddly annoying creators), the athletic
African satan worshipper (he's a good guy, and no I
can't quite figure that out; it must be a pagan
thing), the girl in a mechanical suit, the girl who
can walk through walls, and your basic superman type.
There's even a Popeye-like pirate. It makes for a nice
stroll through Superhero Icon Park.
The first 12 issues of Top Ten are referred to as its
first season. It's actually structured like the show
Hill Street Blues, which is acknowledged by Moore. Instead of the actors and
actresses who conducted the morning roll calls, you've
got your basic talking Doberman Pincher in an
exoskeleton. This is all quite the norm here in
Neopolis (read description above).
There are also some wonderful revelations that unfold
in the story over 12 issues. We have the Superman who
really isn't a very good cop. We learn about the
superhero whose abilities really aren't that
impressive heroes get injured and killed in this
series. We learn about the very very dark side of
child heroes. I personally like the AI cop with the
heart of gold (or does he want to rule the world?).
Moore does a good job of explaining why people
fear the AI potential. Joe PI, who looks like he
walked off of a Voltron casting call, isn't just scary
because he can logically talk a perp into committing
suicide. He's scary because he's funny. And a portly
middle-aged woman with several kids fills his Iron Man
suit. Not only that: she's lower middle class. How
does she afford her nuclear weapons? Hmmm... Moore's
deconstructions just never stop.
Yet the highlight for me would have to be the
background allusions. I'm not sure if this is the
artist's idea or Moore's, but it's pretty impressive.
Every few pages contain an in-joke that only comic guys would get. There are
several Kirby allusions, and one or two Stan Lee
references. Scott McCloud makes an appearance, wearing
a Zot shirt no less. Howard the Duck pulls a cameo;
so does Spock with goatee; even that girl from Run
Lola Run, who looks to be running. Alan Moore appears
as a shackled slave. John Belushi's Samurai serves
food at the Top Ten cafeteria. The crew from Futurama
makes an appearance, and there are two Watchmen allusions and on and on it goes.
I'm at a loss for words to explain just how
enjoyable this series is. The backgrounds alone will
give you hours of joy. It has a number of winding and
complicated stories that aren't wrapped up in the
first season. You'll find yourself asking, who or what
is the Rumor? Who are those level one telepaths who
can snuff out Suns, and where are they kept? Will the
Grey Goose ever be captured? Will the Captain ever be
outed for being gay? "Sigh." Better wait until next
So go out and buy the Top Ten trade paperbacks and all
the other ABC books. Alan Moore simply isn't just the
greatest writer to ever write comics. He's one of the
world's greatest living writers, period.
"On Sunday afternoons The Honourable Order of Tap
Dancing Philosophers would hoof in heated debate as to
the nature of their world. Opinion deviated wildly.
One school of thought proposed it was laid by a
marvelous celestial chicken. Another, that it grew
from seeds in a humus of belly-button fluff and
furballs. A radical third party contended it solely
existed in the mind of a small child who'd simply
thought them into being. But to Wavy Davy Dali and
Tiny Tom Fish Head this meant little. So long as the
sun shone and it snowed at Christmas they were happy."
--From the Flash Animated Prologue of Kingdom of
Kingdom of the Wicked is just one of the many
stories almost a dozen now being offered at Cool
Beans world (www.coolbeansworld.com). It kind of feels
like the old Moonshadow stories directed by a very
dark Terry Gilliam, or if you remember, those brilliant
Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children comics of some
time back. I can't say enough about writer Ian
Edginton (yet another talented Brit writer I presume).
He compares it, unabashedly enough, to Roald Dahl, in
his background piece at Cool Beans. No argument there.
The spare precise poetry of his prose reminds me of
Brautigan or Vonnegut at his sixties peak. The art by
D'israeli is beautiful and occasionally enhanced by
Photoshop-like effects. Think of D'israeli as kind of
a fuller figured Ted McKeever.
The story concerns a children's writer who finds that the imaginary play
world (Castrovolva) of his youth has been turned into
a dark, dystopian Hell, full of murder, butchery, and
war. It's run by his alter-ego, the Evil Great
Dictator. It's an incredible story. There isn't a
wrong note in it, even though the origin of the
Nemesis is a little bizarre. The Great Dictator has an
origin that reminds me of Jim Starlin's Star Thief
villain in his epic Adam Warlock books of the
The prologue also features the best use of Flash
animation for comics that I have ever seen. The
soundtrack, probably produced by one guy with a midi
synth, starts off pleasantly, but when we introduce the
monster, things go sinister and dark in a quick hurry.
You have to pay $2.95 to get access to all these
comics for a month, but it's a bargain.
Kingdom of the Wicked alone is worth the price of
admission. But there are other stories here, by Pat
Mills, two of Clive Barker's classic horror novellas
("The Yattering and Jack" and "In the Hills, the
Cities"), and other gems.
I might also note, for those science fiction fans who
are wondering whether this micropayment thing might
ever take off, that this is probably the most successful
paid content site I've seen for comics. I hope somebody who sells and
markets science fiction or fantasy gives this format a
shot, and soon. My only request is that these guys
gather their content in either a CD or DVD format.
Fallout succeeds more as a clichéd putdown of
science fiction, as opposed to the science history
that it's supposed to be. It bills itself as the
biographical story of Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard,
and the political science of the atomic bomb. I
suppose I'd compare it to science fiction in that the
genre is primarily a fiction of ideas character and story are often sacrificed. Fallout has
the same problems. In terms of storytelling,
it often falls short. The art is inconsistent in that
many artists put the book together in short sections.
It's not unlike having different directors, of varied
quality, directing alternative scenes. Some of the
art is just plain bad, either too sketchy or too
cartoonish. I could have done a more compelling art
job using Photoshop and archival photos. As a story,
it doesn't quite work because it doesn't give perspective into what the politics mean. I
suppose the writer was trying to be objective, but I
wish they had made some judgment calls in
terms of what actually happened. Were Szilard and
Oppenheimer Commie sympathizers or weren't they? Stake
out a position, please.
Fallout does offer, like the best science fiction, a
number of stunning insights (if not artistic
execution). We learn that Szilard probably had more to
do with developing the bomb than Einstein, whose
influence was used almost in a celebrity-like way. We
learn that Oppenheimer hired the best scientists he
could find and didn't pay attention to political
backgrounds. We learn a lot about the details
behind the Manhattan Project. We learn that there were
key women involved in building the bomb. We also learn that
Oppenheimer was left out of further nuclear weapons
development because of his alleged ties to Communist
groups. He fell victim to the McCarthy era
or did he? This is where some perspective would be
appreciated. It's like reading about the Kennedy
assassination and realizing that the writer isn't going
to take a stand on that single bullet theory.
Bottom line: this is not the most engaging comics
journalism/history that I've read. It's not in
the class of anything by Joe Sacco, Tim Truman or
Scott McCloud (even though he praises the book in a
back cover quip). Still, if you're interested in just how
messy science can be, or in the serendipitous
history of the atomic bomb (Szilard
came very close to being captured by the Nazis), Fallout has
something to offer.
Random Notes: Over at a Philip K. Dick website they're
offering a free online version of comic legend R.
Crumb's take on Philip K. Dick. For those of us who
enjoyed Crumb's work on Kafka, this is no less
entertaining. It's well drawn and tells the
definitively weird events that surrounded and informed
Philip K. Dick's religious beliefs. If it's to be
believed, it sounds like Dick experienced past lives,
whacked out religious experiences, and may have been
inadvertently slipping around in his own timestream.
The life of Phil Dick sounds like the kinds of
things that you read in a Phil Dick novel. Scary stuff
and it's free. But it is a little hard to read. You
might want to try looking at it in 800 by 600.