By T. Trewhella
Nostalgia is poison. For countries, for people, and certainly for comics. Around the turn of the millennium Alan Moore proposed an antidote. In his initial pitch for America’s Best Comics (ABC) Alan Moore aimed for a new line of comics which built upon the past, created by the “wide and varied talent” of the present to “forge a powerful new alloy, durable enough to face the future.” The past’s only use is as fuel for what comes next.
America’s Best Comics was an experiment to create an alternate future. It used elements and characters from the Nedor comics universe, published by Standard Comics during the Golden Age of Comics, and which folded in 1956. Alan Moore asks us to imagine that 1956 had gone another way, and to conjure how things could be different.
To me, the line feels like a creative and hopeful act, and within that Top 10 is an attempt to do a team-book right; to bin the overwrought trappings of the superhero multicast form and pull from police procedurals which handle team dynamics differently. It has a rotating cast who shift in and out of focus, one big season long story and lots of little ones that run underneath – some funny, some sad. All, however, help sketch out the ever increasing fractal ideaspace centred on Neopolis.
Top 10 presents the police as flawed but good, with corruption as an outside force while the police deliver justice and find the truth. It’s a view that feels as quaint as the superheroics it seeks to pastiche. The deep insidious moral rot within the legitimised gangsters of state control doesn’t appear in Top 10 but it does, at least, recognise that prejudice, corruption, and incompetence are fundamental to policing. It’s a breezy and fun comic which features satanists fighting animated statues, renegade festive saints, and a police force which brings the rich and powerful to task. You know, whimsical escapist fantasy stuff.
Every issue of Top 10 is full – of characters, designs, and of seemingly throwaway details. I got into comics late, so this confusing mass of background jokes and nonsense is just how every comic felt to me. The series takes the costume of one genre and smashes it together with the narrative drive of another. This echoes in issue 8 “The Overview” where multiple bodies are fused through a transporter incident. The accident is presented entirely in aftermath. We never see how it happened or the collision itself. We see a possible culprit but not what happens to them. We’re asked to see the culprit as guilty because they attempt to flee but never see if we’re right in this assumption. Instead we stay with the victims. The focus is on the now, the outcome, rather than the consequences.
The issue sits right in the middle of the first “season” of Top 10. It acts as a breather following the mid-season climax, the capture of the Libra killer. The issue is framed through the eyes of Lt. “Peregrine” Colby who stands vigil as the last two victims expire. Peregrine and the two remaining victims all have different ideas of the point of existence and what comes after. Despite all the colour and fantasy dazzle of the issue it comes down to three sad beings confronting the unknown of what happens next.
The issue ends with an all-time great piece of writing, the sight of a life ending, and an overtly religious officer praying, contemplating the end of two not of her faith. To me, it’s asking us to think outside the neatness of the first arc and the next big arc to come; to look outside of the clockwork inter-connectedness of all things. Intention and “why” are cheap when stacked up against the cost of a life. What ever happens next (even if like me you believe it’s nothing), the end of a life is still important. Accidents, negligence, intention, dignity – these change how we the survivors feel but don’t mean a thing to the dead.
Endings are scary and important whatever you believe. There’s a charge and power to permanent and irrevocable change. It’s a very human magic, which flies in the face of the dominant modes of “content exploitation” in which we live. It’s hard to strip-mine money out of a finite story, and endings trigger copyright expiration and, even worse, the eventual return of ideas back to the great creative slush-pile of the public domain. It’s much better if corporations allow fictions to stumble on into an eternal undeath, ever diminishing in any meaningful metric except the financial. Never let those ideas go. The grinding wheel of nostalgia will mean rights holders (but rarely creators) will all draw down their dividends from Fortnight skins, Funko Pops, and guest appearances on the CW.
The ABC line didn’t last long. Wildstorm owned the line and it was sold to DC in 1998, before the comics themselves ramped up in earnest. The ending of the core ABC line was turned into an event with “Tom Strong” and “Promethea” showing two facets of a fictional apocalypse. That ABC had an end was another way in which it sat in a parallel tradition of comics. It ended. Closure was possible.
The content must flow. Carefully closed stories must be torn open to extract maximum value. A Tom Strong returns in The Terrifics, a “Promethea” turns up in JLA, Top 10 has a whole incomplete second season. Moore and Ha don’t own Top 10. DC can publish new stories whenever they want. The content must flow.
Top 10 is Gene Ha and Alan Moore acknowledging what came before but creating like they don’t owe the past a damn thing. Interviewed at the time Alan Moore said:
“[It] is not a denial of Watchmen, it’s just a recognition that, hey, Watchmen was 1986, that was almost 15 years ago, and today’s a completely different time.”
If the creators can throw themselves from the orbit of their “important” works, then we can escape the gravitational pull of nostalgia.
Genre comics can feel like the stinking industrial by-product of the forever corporate war to maintain exploitable IP arsenals at all costs. Nothing meaningful can shift or change. No endings. No creators’ rights to finish a thing or allow anything other than a pseudo-urgent present spot-welded to a cliffhanger. To rip off the show that ripped off this issue “time is a flat promotional watchman button”. Top 10 and ABC shows us that things can be different. The actions of DC and WB shows us that they cannot. We can choose. Did Nedor end in 1956 or does it live on?
Nostalgia poisoning has many symptoms. A key one is feeling like we are owed more of a work that we love, of thinking about the product and it’s consumption rather than the process of its creation. Top 10 issue 8 is a quiet and beautiful issue that speaks to me of hope. It is a potent drop of anti-nostalgia that reminds me to consider the human cost of art and the power of “The End”.
Top 10 #8 – The Overview
Written by Alan Moore
Drawn by Gene Ha
Inked by Zander Cannon
Coloured by Wildstorm FX
Lettered by Todd Klein
T is a writer who writes about comics, games, feelings, the future, and nail polish. More of their stuff can be found on Twitter over here. They are toxic.
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