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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 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 , Books 1 and 2

Writer: Alan Moore

Artists: Gene Ha, Zander Cannon

Paperback - 208 pages (July 2001)
DC Comics; ISBN: 1563896680 ; Dimensions (in inches): 0.44 x 10.23 x 6.66

Hardcover - 144 pages Comic edition (April 2002)
DC Comics; ISBN: 1563898764

 

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 doesn’t just have science fictional ideas. It has every science fictional idea—good, 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 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 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 (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 of Hill Street Blues, which I believe was openly 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?). 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, 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 Alan’s but it’s 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 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 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 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 season… 

So go out and buy the Top Ten trade paperbacks. Alan Moore simply isn’t just the greatest writer to ever write comics. He’s one of the world’s greatest living writers, period.

 

 

 

Wicked Kingdom

Writer: Ian Edginton

Artist: D'israeli

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 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 the Wicked 

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 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 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 alto-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 seventies.  

 

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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 it’s 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 Barker’s 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.  

 

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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 I’ve 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.

 

 

Fallout: J. Robert Oppenheimer, Leo Szilard, and the political science of the atomic bomb.

Fallout

Writer: Jim Ottaviani

Artists: Janine Johnston, Steve Lieber, Vince Locke, Bernie Mireault and Jeff Parker

ISBN: 0-9660106-3-9
Retail Price: US$19.95
Page count: 240 pages, b/w, painted cover
Publication date: November, 2001

 Fallout succeeds moreso 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 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. It’s 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 doesn’t quite work because you’re 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 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 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. It’s like reading about the Kennedy assassination and finding out the writer isn’t going to take a stand on that single bullet theory thing.  

Bottom line, this is not the most engaging comics journalism/history that I’ve read. It’s 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 you’re 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.  

 

 

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Random Notes: Over at a Phil K. Dick site they’re offering a free online version of comic legend Robert Crumb’s take on Phil 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 Phil 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 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 26, 2002)
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. He’s taken a radical view of comics in that anything that is genre related is less than art. That’s why you probably will never see serious lengthy reviews of City of Silence or the incredible ABC comics being done by Alan Moore. That’s 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. That’s 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 Alan’s performance art mags at length, but nothing of those low-brow, low-culture ABC books. That’s 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. Let’s look at it in the way that Tony Soprano settles old gambling debts. Let’s use the same Satanic calculation that Gary (Is he the Antichrist?) used when he had Ted Rall and Danny Hellman—involved in litigation with each other—review each other’s 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 public—without a hint of bias or vengeance on my mind—that it is…is…well:….. 

Brilliant. And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that.  

First it looks beautiful. It’s 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 cartoonist’s 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 they’re brilliant we should respect the Journal’s 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. Dick—all of this lessens the value of the work of course, bringing it down the low culture level of the Madding Crowd, which I’m sure the Journal would agree with. 

It has all that plus the usual assortment of high-end Journal commentary and rants. It’s a must read and a must buy. I hate admitting that. So, looks like you win this round Groth. But I’ll be back. Oh I’ll be back. You’ll 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 League’s 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. It’s drawn and inked in Jack Kirby’s style. 

Page Eight, center panel:  

Absolut Kirby Ad. 

Page 25, top panel: 

Another Shot of the Kirbyesque mural panel.

Book Two: 

Page 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.

 Book Three: 

Page 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. 

Book Four: 

On page 15, bottom panel: 

What kinds of comics do the citizens of Neopolis read? The answer is in King Peacock’s hands and it’s 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”.

 Book 5:

 Page Nine, panel four, far right: 

Funny billboard again: “You wouldn’t Like me when I’m Naked.” It advertises something called non rip fabric gamma pants. 

Page 22, Top Panel 

Looks Like a Version of a Roy Liechtenstein painting. (I’m probably spelling that wrong.)

 Book 6 

The Starship Enterprise is in the river in panel six, bottom right.

 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. 

Book 7

 Page 7 

Bottom Righthand panel: 

An 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. 

Page 21, 5th panel, bottom right: 

John Belushi’s samurai seems to be serving at the Top Ten cafeteria. 

Book 8

 

Page 7, bottom right hand corner: 

Thomas The Train engine makes a flying appearance. 

Page 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. 

Page 20. Main panel: 

This 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). There’s even a funny ad called “Somewhere You’re Tops”.  

Page 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.

 Book Nine: 

Page Four, middle panel 3: 

There’s only two backgrounds that allude to the Watchmen. This is one of them. There’s a shadow silhouette of the station’s dog captain making out with a whore. For Watchmen fans, there are tons of shadow silhouettes.  

Page Eight, middle panel: 

Looks like Alan Moore as a slave. There’s probably more stuff in this issue I just couldn’t recognize it. 

Book Ten: 

Page one bottom panel: 

Josie and the Pussycats make an appearance.

It’s pretty much the only cameo here that I can find. This issue is mostly a fight scene.

 Book 11:

 Page 6, panel 3, right: 

Plastic Stan’s furniture place features a clear picture of Stan Lee. 

Page 10: 

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.  

Page 11:  

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.

 

Page 12: 

First panel: Funny billboard says Soylent Green for People who Love People, 

Also 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?) 

Page 13: 

Doctor Who and Fu Manchu walk by in the third panel, left.

 Page 16, 2nd panel, left

Cameos by the Green Hornet and Kato. 

Page 20 

Top panel: 

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. 

Page 21: 

Oscar Wilde and the Hangman, from Astro City

 Top Ten 12:

Page Four: 

The Blues Beetles are playing on a rooftop left 1st panel: 

Page Eight: The other Watchmen reference that I could find: There’s a character who’s reading an issue of Nova Express. 

Page 15: The Green Apple Green Grocer with Neal O’Neil, the proprietor… 

Page 20: 

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

 Page 29 

Middle panel: Eddie Murphy Dr. Doolittle plus English Dr. Doolitle 

Page 30: American Flagg holds a child.