Top Ten

Top Ten is one of the many comics Alan Moore has produced in the last five years or so under the rubric of America’s Best Comics. It’s been collected in two trade paperback volumes.
Top Ten is light and airy, even goofy, despite the fact that its subjects include serial killing, drug addiction, and pedophilia. The premise is this: Neopolis is a city where all the citizens have comic book superpowers. Top Ten follows the officers of the city’s police precinct through a week or so of their various activities and adventures.
Having pretty much invented the hardcore look at how psychologically fucked up superheroes would be if they were real, twenty years ago in Watchmen, Moore takes a radically different tack this time. The tone of Top Ten is more Barney Miller than Hill Street Blues. Moore has fun with (and makes fun of) superhero comic book conventions, and sets up one absurd situation after another. Basically, he revels in the extravagence of possibilities afforded him by his set-up. What makes it work really, even for readers like myself who have little emotional feeling for the superhero genre, is the effortless fluidity and grace with which Moore juggles his many balls; the book is almost a textbook example of narrative economy and elegant self-referential construction. (Also, Gene Ha’s illustrations are wonderful: dense and complex, they render the sheer intensity and craziness of urban existence melded with the wacko insanity of superhero fantasy gone bonkers).
I’m almost inclined to say that the pleasures of Top Ten are like those of watching old, low budget Hollywood films, by those directors (like Edgar Ulmer, Budd Boetticher, Joseph H Lewis, Gerd Oswald, and so on, whom Andrew Sarris designated as masters of “expressive esoterica”). Except that Alan Moore has, at the same time, a postmodern self-consciousness about it all, which those old directors didn’t really have. So it might be more accurate to say that Moore’s uniqueness is that he can pull off a self-conscious pomo pastiche/evocation of naive, old, “low culture” genres without any of the smarmy condescension and all-too-self-congratulatory campiness that so often vitiates such efforts.
Top Ten is a light entertainment, in contrast to such more ‘serious’ works of Moore’s as Watchmen, From Hell, and Promethea. But it’s a mark, I think, of Alan Moore’s sophistication and cosmpolitanism and brilliance as an artist, that he can also toss off such a pitch-perfect, self-aware but “naive” serial as Top Ten.

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