Peak Performance

Top Ten: The Forty-Niners: written by Alan Moore; pencilled by Gene Ha; colour by Art Lyon; lettering by Todd Klein (2005): In 1949, the U.S. government relocated the vast majority of its super-powered, supernatural, and just plain weird residents to the new city of Neopolis. This is Moore and Ha’s story of the first turbulent months of that city’s existence. 50 years later, Moore’s Top Ten comic book would follow the adventures of the Neopolis police department as it strove to preserve order in a city of superheroes, super-villains, vampires, and 500-foot-tall drunken super-lizards.

The art is phenomenal. Gene Ha’s tight pencils make all the characters distinct and distinctive. In the foreground are our protagonists; in the background are a host of characters who resemble any one of a thousand characters from comic-book and comic-strip history, from Smilin’ Jack to Buster Brown to The Yellow Kid. It’s a super-hero comic book as reimagined by Mad magazine. You really have to read it at least twice to get all the visual jokes and references. In the foreground, Ha has never done better work at creating distinct, realistic faces and body types for a wide array of characters.

The story focuses on two primary protagonists, Steve Traynor (“Jet Lad”, who fought the Nazis as a pre-pubescent aviator, an homage to the 1940’s comic-book character Air Boy) and Leni Muller (“Sky Witch”, a German aviatrix who defected to the Allies in 1943 because of her hatred of the Nazis). They settle into life in Neopolis and both soon find work, Leni on the new police force and Steve as a mechanic with the SkySharks, independent, multi-national aviators who fought alongside the Allies in World War Two.

Various problems (the vampire population) and prejudices (everyone hates the robots in the robot ghetto, or ‘Clickers’ as they’re called) and personal issues (Steve is gay but doesn’t want to admit it) and injustices (Axis supervillains have gotten a sweet deal, just as Axis rocket scientists did in our world) drive the story. But there’s also lots of time and space just to look around at Gene Ha’s marvelous pencils and the subtle colour wash of Art Lyon’s colour work on the series. This really is a beautiful book, and a fitting farewell to the Top Ten series by Moore. Highly recommended.

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