Fearful Symmetry

Film. Books. Comics. TV. Music.

Top Ten – The Forty Niners by Alan Moore and Gene Ha

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Some time ago Alan Moore wrote the series Top Ten. It’s about a city where everyone, down to the cats and mice, is a superhero, alien, deity, robot or some other entity inspired from mainly comics, but also literature, film and television. That’s an idea which has done before and, no doubt will be done again, but I doubt if it will ever be done better. From the basis of this one idea Moore let his imagination fire off in all directions as he told the stories of some of those that policed the city. A number of the scenes and sub-plots were completely bizarre and yet Moore grounded them with real human emotions so that a quick aside about a teleport crash or the love affair between a woman and an intelligent dog could be completely affecting. The backgrounds of each panel were also studded with in-jokes so you could also play a ‘Where’s Wally’ game in spotting the famous and not so famous characters from other stories cleverly included by the artist Gene Ha. And probably most amazingly Moore through all the madness kept a multi-level, multi-strand plot going until its natural conclusion. Not for nothing was it called ‘Hill Street Blues with superheroes’.

The Forty Niners is a prequal to the original story, set appropriately in 1949 where the city, post-World War Two, is being created. We have the same mix of bizarre but this time there are all inspired by a past era – prominent among them a 16 year old ace pilot, his former arch-enemy who changed sides, a Zorro type who rides a huge motorcycle, a modern day Joan of Arc plus assorted robots and vampires. The story is shorter so unfortunately there is less room for the spin-offs from the main plot that the original series did so well. The backgrounds are as equally filled with characters as before but there is less pressure to go character spotting because, for me, this age is far less familiar so I am much less likely to recognise anyone. But there are some great set piece jokes like a fight between one character who speaks only in crossword clues and another who speaks only puns.

All the main characters have room for three dimensions and again underneath all the weirdness there is room for a great plot, relating to tolerance and intolerance. With vampires and robots being treated as second class citizens and hard questions being asked of those heroes with ‘boy wonder’ type partners.

Reading this filled me with anticipation for the soon to be released Black Dossier, the next instalment of Moore’s other great series using fictional characters in a ‘real’ setting – The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.


Written by Fearful Symmetry

June 27, 2009 at 4:28 pm

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