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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 citys 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 , Books 1 and 2
Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Gene Ha, Zander CannonPaperback - 208 pages (July 2001)
Top Ten is just 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 doesnt just have
science fictional ideas. It has every science fictional ideagood, bad, silly,
indifferent--probably ever imagined as they have been reduced and reseen through both
pulps and comics. It has parallel worlds (Our home city Neopolis, in a kind of sarcastic
aside about DCs 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 just your basic telepathy,
but people with synesthesia, precogs and even Stochastic Fats. Bioengineered bots,
mecha-hybrids and lamprey-legged thingies dot the landscape. Biotech alarmist Jeremy
Rifkin would faint dead away if ever placed in the Neopolis. And it has your basic
Superhero 101 templates: genetically designed gals (and their oddly annoying creators),
the athletic African satan worshipper (Hes a good guy and no I cant 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. Theres 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 of Hill
Street Blues, which I believe was openly acknowledged by Moore. Instead of the
actors and actresses who conducted the morning roll calls youve 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 isnt a very good cop. We learn about the superhero whose abilities really arent 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?). Alan really does a good job of explaining why people fear the AI potential. Joe P.I, who looks like he walked off of a Voltron casting call, isnt just scary because he can logically talk a perp into committing suicide. Hes scary because hes funny. And a portly middle-aged woman with several kids fills his Iron Man suit. Not only that: shes lower middle class. How does she afford her nuclear weapons? Hmmm Moores deconstructions just never stop.
Yet the highlight for me would have to be the background allusions. Im not sure if this is the artists idea or Alans but its pretty impressive. Every several pages that goes by in Top Ten contains 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 Belushis 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.
Im at a loss for words explaining at 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 arent wrapped up in the first season. Youll 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 season
So go out and buy the Top Ten trade paperbacks. Alan Moore simply isnt just the greatest writer to ever write comics. Hes one of the worlds greatest living writers, period.
Writer: Ian Edginton
Located at www.coolbeansworld.com, Minimum of $2.95 a month to rent out content
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 whod 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 the Wicked
Kingdom of the Wicked is just one
of the many storiesalmost 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 cant say enough about writer Ian Edginton, yet another
talented Brit writer I presume. He compares his work, unabashedly enough, to Roald Dahl in
his background piece at Cool Beans. No argument there. The spare precise poetry of his
prose reminds you of Brautigan or Vonnegut at his sixties peak. The art by Disraeli
is beautiful and occasionally enhanced by Photoshop-like effects. Think of Disraeli
as kind of a fuller figured Ted McKeever. The story concerns a childrens 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. Its run by his alto-ego, the
Evil Great Dictator. Its an incredible story. There isnt 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 Starlins Star Thief villain in his epic Adam Warlock
books of the seventies.
From The Kingdom of the Wicked Prologue
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 pleasant but when we introduce the monster things go
sinister and dark in a quick hurry. Now, you have to pay $2.95 to get access to all these
comics for a month. But its a pretty good bargain. Kingdom of the Wicked
alone is worth the price of admission. But there are other stories here by Pat Mills, two
of Clive Barkers classic horror novellas (The Yattering and Jack and
In the Hills, In the Cities) and other gems that I hope to be reviewing
in the weeks ahead.
The Evil Dictator As an Evil Child.
I might also note, for those science fiction fans who are wondering whether this micropayment thing might ever take off, this is probably the most successful paid content site that Ive ever seen for comics. We all remember the horrific Galaxy Online implosion. But this site is growing. 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.
Writer: Jim Ottaviani
Artists: Janine Johnston, Steve Lieber, Vince Locke, Bernie Mireault and Jeff Parker
succeeds moreso as a clichéd putdown of science fiction, as opposed to the science
history that its 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 compare
it to a putdown of science fiction, i.e. that it's primarily a fiction of ideas, and not
art. Character and story are often sacrificed goes the cpnventional complaint--articulated
in the Locus online letters pages as we speak. Fallout has the same problems. Just
in terms of its storytelling, it often falls short. The art is inconsistent in that many
artists put the book together in short sections. Its not unlike having different
directors, of varied quality, directing alternative scenes. One minute it's Coppala, the next the guy who did Different Strokes. Some of the art is just plain bad, either sketchy
or too cartoonish. I could have done a more compelling art job using photoshop and
archival photos. As a story, it doesnt quite work because youre not
necessarily given a perspective as to what the politics mean. I suppose the writer was
trying to be objective but I sort of wish that they had made some judgment calls in terms
of what actually happened. Were Szilard and Oppenheimer commie sympathizers or
werent they? Stake out a position, please.
Fallout does offer, like the best
science fiction, a number of stunning insightsif
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 didnt pay
attention to political backgrounds. We learn about a lot of the details behind the
Manhattan Project. We learn that there were key women involved in building the bomb. We
also learn Oppenheimer was left out of further nuclear weapons development because of his
alleged ties to communist groups. He definitely fell victim to the McCarthy era, or did
he? This is where some perspective is appreciated. Its like reading about the
Kennedy assassination and finding out the writer isnt going to take a stand on that
single bullet theory thing.
Bottom line, this is not the most
engaging comics journalism/history that Ive read. Its just 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. But if youre interested in just how messy science can be or the
serendipitous (Szilard came very close to being captured by the Nazis) history of the
atomic bomb, Fallout might have something to offer.
Random Notes: Over at a Phil K. Dick site theyre offering a free online version of comic legend Robert Crumbs take on Phil K. Dick. For those of us who enjoyed Crumbs work on Kafka this is no less entertaining. Its well drawn and tells the definitively weird events that surrounded and informed Phil K. Dicks religious beliefs. If its 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 kind of sounds like the kinds of things that you read in a Phil Dick novel. Scary stuff and its free. But it is a little hard to read. You might want to try looking at it in 800 by 600.
The Comics Journal (Special Edition, Winter 2002 Volume One)
Paperback - 156 pages Special edition Vol 1 (January
Fantagraphics Books; ISBN: 1560974737 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.43 x 12.00 x 11.86
My day of reckoning is at hand. As you may or may not know, Gary Groth is the controversial editor of the Comics Journal. Hes taken a radical view of comics in that anything that is genre related is less than art. Thats why you probably will never see serious lengthy reviews of City of Silence or the incredible ABC comics being done by Alan Moore. Thats because genre can never rise to the level of great art. 1984 was just a lucky stroke. The fiction of Raymond Chandler is a tragic accident. This Harry Potter thing will pass over. We should all be reading naturalistic fiction about divorces and bridges in Madison County or something middle class by Updike. Thats high art. And comics that even hint at spandex, radioactive spiders or heroic acts or science fiction should never be taken seriously as something worthy of criticism. We can talk about Alans performance art mags at length, but nothing of those low-brow, low-culture ABC books. Thats all quite beneath us here at the Journal.
With this not so extraordinary history in mind, let us take a look at the special Winter 2002 edition of The Comics Journal. Let us look at it in a hostile way. Lets look at it in the way that Tony Soprano settles old gambling debts. Lets use the same Satanic calculation that Gary (Is he the Antichrist?) used when he had Ted Rall and Danny Hellmaninvolved in litigation with each otherreview each others books.
In fact, I would like to say something about this edition of the Comics Journal, whose editorial judgment I seriously question, whose very principals tell us there can be no such thing as the great science fiction novel. I would like to say something harsh, with shards. And after reading it, I must inform the reading publicwithout a hint of bias or vengeance on my mindthat it is is well: ..
Brilliant. And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that.
First it looks beautiful. Its a huge book, probably 12 by 12 both ways or more. It costs about $20 but you end up getting a high quality soft cover coffee table book. What makes this particular issue of the Journal so special is that it includes about several dozen pages of original comics stories, with the theme being the cartoonists craft.
The vast majority of these stories are dazzling. Of course, a lot of the better stories veer headlong into surrealist fantasy, which suggests genre, which means that even though it looks like theyre brilliant we should respect the Journals hatred of genre and ignore our lying eyes. The best story had to be by Linda Medley. It switches from black and white to color, throws in a few allusions to both Moebius and Moby Dick, and even manages to quietly touch upon the 9-11 tragedies. She does that and kind of gives you a Scott McCloud treatment of what comics mean, all in less than five pages. Just a stunner of a story. But there are more like that. The Bill Griffith (Zippy) story is hilarious. The Jessica Abel and Art Spiegelman one-page stories are nothing short of masterpieces. There are pages so beautiful from Theodore Jouflas and Tony Millionaire that they will make you weep. The Spain Rodriguez story is really a very intelligent critique of science fiction and features a meeting with Phil K. Dickall of this lessens the value of the work of course, bringing it down the low culture level of the Madding Crowd, which Im sure the Journal would agree with.
It has all that plus the usual assortment of high-end Journal commentary and rants. Its a must read and a must buy. I hate admitting that. So, looks like you win this round Groth. But Ill be back. Oh Ill be back. Youll rue the day etcetera etcetera.
Complete Index of Top Ten Allusions , References and Jokes (That I like.)
I've attempted to collect all the Top Ten allusions, references and in-jokes that I can find in the backgrounds. Feel free to contrast and compare.
Issue One: Her First Day on the New Job
Page Four, top panel:
The core of the tenth precinct headquarters looks like the Justice Leagues Hall of Justice. Plus has a fountain before the entrance.
Page Four, left bottom panel:
The Mural background spotlights the first science heroes of Neopolis. Its drawn and inked in Jack Kirbys style.
Page Eight, center panel:
Absolut Kirby Ad.
Page 25, top panel:
Another Shot of the Kirbyesque mural panel.
Thirteen, top panel:
Billboard for the Replacement Gods, which just happens to be a book done by Gene Ha. Also: There is the Church of the Great Hole in the Ground, which might be a reference to those black holes that would appear in certain Warner Brothers cartoons and I believe also made an appearance in the animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine.
24, left lower corner:
Billboard for Granny Goodwrench. This is another Kirby allusion. This time for Granny Goodness of Mother Box, Scott Free and New Gods fame.
page 15, bottom panel:
What kinds of comics do the citizens of Neopolis read? The answer is in King Peacocks hands and its called Businessman
Page 23, third panel:
When you drive by the porn theaters in Neopolis you get some obvious porn titles for this dimension: Stretchable Sluts, and Quadruple Lass in Four Play.
Nine, panel four, far right:
Page Nine, panel four, far right:
billboard again: You wouldnt Like me when Im Naked. It advertises
something called non rip fabric gamma pants.
22, Top Panel
Looks Like a Version of a Roy Liechtenstein painting. (Im probably spelling that wrong.)
Starship Enterprise is in the river in panel six, bottom right.
24, Top Panel:
Page 24, Top Panel:
Big Green Guy in car looks like an Ed Big Daddy Roth creation. The Leprechaun flying above him is wearing the costume of Irish screamer x guy Banshee.
appearance by the blue smurfs.
Page 20, 1st left hand panel:
There is a picture of an apparently dead Robin/Bucky like sidekick whose sign says: Really dead. Please Help.
21, 5th panel, bottom right:
John Belushis samurai seems to be serving at the Top Ten cafeteria.
7, bottom right hand corner:
The Train engine makes a flying appearance.
12, top panel.
Cameo by Astro Boy.
Page 14, top panel:
Big cameo panel. Keep in mind that the crime scene in this issue revolves around a platform where people that fly are constantly circling by. In no particular order, we have a X Man Sentinel, the falcon, the Vulture, Man-Bat and the early X Men Angel.
20. Main panel:
is probably the biggest cameo panel in the 12 issue series. In no particular order: Howard
the Duck in the far right corner, the Mirror Mirror crew from Star Trek (from the
evil Spock with goatee dimension), the Sandman and an associate, and the girl
from Run Lola Run running (which makes sense since this is an interdimensional gateway or
a gateway to multiple possibilities). Theres even a funny ad called Somewhere
21, Top panel:
There are three members of Space Family Robinson. Two characters out of Tom Strong who travel through dimensions. The gang from Stargate. It also looks like an allusion to the Warren Beatty movie Heaven can Wait in the middle of the panel.
Page 21, Second Panel:
Definite cameo by the Super Skrull. Behind him looks to be the Hulk villain The Leader.
Four, middle panel 3:
only two backgrounds that allude to the Watchmen. This is one of them. Theres a
shadow silhouette of the stations dog captain making out with a whore. For Watchmen
fans, there are tons of shadow silhouettes.
Page Eight, middle panel:
like Alan Moore as a slave. Theres probably more stuff in this issue I just
couldnt recognize it.
Page one bottom panel:
Josie and the Pussycats make an appearance.
Its pretty much the only cameo here that I can find. This issue is mostly a fight scene.
6, panel 3, right:
Stans furniture place features a clear picture of Stan Lee.
First panel, on the steps is a picture of Scott McCloud who is wearing a Zot t-shirt. Also looks like some superfriends walking up the steps toward the interdimensional station.
Top left panel: The cast of Futurama makes an appearance.
Middle panel: Mary Poppins makes a fly-by.
Bottom right panel: Futurama gang makes another appearance.
First panel: Funny billboard says Soylent Green for People who Love People,
looks like Tarzan or Kazar in the background
and a prominent DC character in a
hospital gown.. (Dr. Fate, who's doing medicine, get it?)
(Dr. Fate, who's doing medicine, get it?)
Doctor Who and Fu Manchu walk by in the third panel, left.
16, 2nd panel, left
Page 16, 2nd panel, left
by the Green Hornet and Kato.
Ghostrider on a burning unicycle, deadman floating about, the Spirit walking out from a grave
Panel three: The Preacher is apparently giving the sermon
Panel two: gravestone for Electra.
Oscar Wilde and the Hangman, from Astro City
Top Ten 12:
The Blues Beetles are playing on a rooftop left 1st panel:
Eight: The other Watchmen reference that I could find: Theres a character whos
reading an issue of Nova Express.
Page 15: The Green Apple Green Grocer with Neal ONeil, the proprietor
At the Quik Mart We have the six million dollar man and woman, some adult version of Speedy Gonzalex, and two versions of the flash
Middle panel: Eddie Murphy Dr. Doolittle plus English Dr. Doolitle
Page 30: American Flagg holds a child.