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Top 10: Beyond The Farthest Precinct
Paul Di Filippo and Jerry Ordway
America's Best Comics / Titan paperback £9.99

review by Duncan Lawie

Top 10 is the creation of Alan Moore and Gene Ha. They began the series with multiple plotlines stretching in all directions, publishing two volumes, followed by the connected Smax book, and an 'origin' series set 50 years earlier - The 49ers. As a result, writer Paul Di Filippo and artist Jerry Ordway have plenty of material to work with for this latest mini-series, Beyond The Farthest Precinct now published in one volume. They do an excellent job in the first part of (re-)introducing the diverse characters who makeup the police force of Top 10 precinct. Their beat is a city of science heroes and super villains where even the beat cops can fly. The page design and linkage of panels helps the reader share the familiarity of this group with each other, as otherwise their tendency to mix given names with superhero aliases would make it difficult to spot who is being referred to.

There is a disjunctive moment, however, which marks a switch from domestic catch-up into plot, with a threat to the city and the sacking of Top 10's base commander. The following pages make an attempt to make the newly elected mayor and the new police commander a commentary on politics in the United States since 2000, but nothing quite comes of it. There is a showdown around the middle of the story, between those who feel it is their duty to follow instructions from the head of state and those who question whether that authority has sufficient right to change all the rules. The outcome is a lecture on how reasonable people who love their country need to get on with the job even whilst they dispute working methods. The takeaway for the reader appears to be a reminder not to forget who the 'real enemies of freedom' are, which might have been less of a mixed message if we hadn't already been invited to identify the baboon mayor with George W. Bush.

Besides this plot, there are dozens of others, major and minor. The eye of the artist skitters over them all, sometimes providing closure but always providing further insight into the diverse world of Top 10. This diversity is displayed even more than it is told, with something to arrest the eye in almost every frame of the book. Alan Moore is keen on evoking the whole of pulp and comic history in his work, and there is plenty of 'Easter egging' in this volume. Di Filippo provides some modern SF bias, with a Perdido Street in Bugtown and a robot referring to itself as part of the Church of Egan. More than Gene Ha, Jerry Ordway is happy to mix 2-D style drawings into his scenes, from a speaking part for a very cartoonish crow to walk-ons by Tintin, Blondie and dozens of others. This scattershot effect matches the shallow twisting and intermingled plotlines but it appears that the authors suddenly realised they were about to run out of pages, and so the solution to their biggest problem is suddenly presented by a character that appears from off-stage with all the pieces of the puzzle. This leads to the 'crime of the season' being resolved by the sudden revelation of unknown talents in apparently well-known characters.

The book is rounded out with a few rough sketches for the original issue covers, and the pictures are present in all their text-free glory between the issues, but this feels a dash thin in terms of 'extras'. The artwork is very much in the style of Gene Ha - this is not an opportunity for a new artist to go for significantly different visual stylings - which helps the book settle into the Top 10 series easily. Overall, this volume builds very well on what has gone before, in terms of style, character and the look of the world. It also develops the 'soap' elements of the ongoing series cleverly, leaving open some big questions for the future, but the plot-of-the-week elements are rather poorly integrated, leaving the feeling that there was never any real threat to the fabric of society. Having tidily swept the villain off stage, the messy business of living goes on.
Top 10: Beyond The Farthest Precinct

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