Monday, August 28, 2006

TOP 10: THE FORTY-NINERS America's Best Comics, 2005

And we’re back.

Sorry for the lack of posts recently. Life has been hella-busy recently, with numerous competing demands on my time. You know how it is: shit gets hectic sometimes. I get busier than Arsenio Hall. I have to prioritize, and when I prioritize, that means that somebody gets the shaft. In this case, that somebody is YOU, Dave’s Long Box reader!

But now I am back and I’m ready to talk about my favorite graphic novel from the year 2005 -- Top 10: The Forty-Niners. Yes, I liked it even more than that Essential Spider-Woman collection*, Dave said ironically.

The Forty-Niners is a prequel to writer Alan Moore’s Top 10 comic series. This graphic novel, written by Moore with art by my homeboy Gene Ha, tells the story of the beginning of Neopolis, a retro-futuristic city full of superhumans, robots, and supernatural creatures. It establishes the historical background for the characters and events in the Top 10 series, which has accurately been described as “Hill Street Blues with superheroes.”

The story is set in, duh, 1949, and it follows two newcomers to Neopolis: Steve Traynor, former high-flying child hero Jet Lad and future Neopolis police chief; and Skywitch, aka Leni Muller, a former enemy of Jet Lad’s who flew for the Axis during the war but defected in 1943. They try to adjust to life in the strange and wonderful Neopolis.

Muller joins the city’s police force, which begins a campaign against the Neopolis underworld, a criminal organization run by vampires. Only, don’t call them vampires, it pisses them off:

Traynor becomes a mechanic for the Sky Sharks, a Blackhawks-esque organization and develops a close – really close – friendship with one of the pilots, the studly Wulf. Traynor uncovers a plot to bomb Neopolis’s robot ghetto by the leader of the Sky Sharks, who just isn’t the same after the war.

The Forty-Niners is really about family and acceptance and belonging. Moore weaves different plot threads through the story, each exploring the idea of community. Skywitch and Jet Lad are immigrants to Neopolis, anxious to make a place for themselves in this weird city that is growing before their eyes. Jet Lad’s relationship with Wulf, the armored super cop Steel Gauntlet’s terrible secret, the discrimination against the robots – they all touch on issues of acceptance and belonging. Even the vampire gangsters talk about family.

If that is not enough for you, The Forty-Niners has got time traveling Nazis, aerial dogfights, vampire beheadings, and Skywitch’s kick-ass flying broom.

Something for everyone, really.

Aside from Alan Moore’s wry dialogue and clever plotting, Gene Ha’s artwork really makes The Forty-Niners work. His art is finely rendered, almost delicate. Ha puts a painstaking level of detail into each panel, and the book is loaded with visual references to Golden Age comics and postwar pulp culture. The backgrounds are full of precisely drawn deco and futurist skyscrapers and ornate brownstones.

It's insane - the book looks like it took ten years to draw.
In short, Top 10: The Forty-Niners ruled and it gets the double heavy-metal salute from me. I felt like I got my money’s worth on this one.

*I would argue that there is absolutely nothing essential about reprints of Spider-Woman. The trees used to print that book could have been put to much better use – like toilet paper. Ba-DAM!


SwanShadow said...

Hey, now! I loves me some Spider-Woman! And the other Spider-Woman, too, the one who calls herself Arachne now! And Spider-Girl, too! Don't disrespect my Spider-Chicks, or I'll have to go all arthropodic on your butt.

And in case you haven't noticed lately, the Forty-Niners haven't been in the Top 10 in about a decade.

What? Oh... not those Forty-Niners.

Never mind. :)

Chawunky said...

I loved this book. Particularly I loved its most ass-kicking rendition of the Maid of Orleans.

I was also struck by how Moore and Ha evoke sympathy for Pvt. Iron in the treatment he suffers at the hands of the police. His introduction in the opening pages made him seem like a lost puppy.

But then I'm someone who gets teary-eyed at HAL 9000's final moments in [i]2010[/i], so maybe I'm not the most objective reader.

J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

Sounds like a must buy.

Bully said...

The story is set in, duh, 1942

Pssst! Dave! Make the correction and then erase this comment, and no one will be the wiser! I'll never tell!

David Campbell said...

I have no idea what you are talking about, my dear bull.

David Campbell said...

Bully, send me an email! I have a valuable Dave's Long Box Un-Prize for you.

jim treacher said...

"I get busier than Arsenio Hall."

These days, who doesn't?

The Forty-Niners was a great love story between a big burly man and a soft, pliable young boy. The whole robot plot was kind of hard to follow, but I really liked the man-on-man action.

P.S. I know what you're thinking, but that's the wrong term for it. We call it "the downlow."

Parry Stiles said...

I really loved Alan Moore and Gen Ha's Top 10 series from ABC Comics. I had my local comic book shop put Top 10: The Forty-Niners in my must have bag. I have to agree, definitely one of the better graphic novels of last year.

Scott King said...

I saw the graphic novel in "Barnes & Noble," but I wasn't familuar with the world or characters and found it hard to get into. Maybe I should give it another try.

Mob said...

Nice review, this sounds like it might be worth a look.

markus said...

Not having read Top 10 I found the 49ers a frustrating read. It is a really intersting period piece, with - as you said - great themes of belonging and identity ... and then there's the supershit. The story would have worked just as well without all the spandex and in this case I feel it really got in the way. Mostly because it kind of drapes the sensibilities, genre expectations etc. of the capes-stuff atop something that IMO should have been spared the base spectacle.
(Alternatively, one might say the superheroing isn't good enough to stand up to the rest.)

Dan Coyle said...

Man, I'm with you on Essential Spider-Woman. When Michael Fleisher's scripts are the most empowering of the stories in the book... you're in serious trouble. Though if you're into bondage, Carmine Infantino's your man.

I couldn't help shedding a few tears at the end of The Forty-Niners. It's a beautiful book and a beautiful love story. It's one of Moore's best, which means it's one of the best comics ever.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

You post plenty, so don't you fret. Great blog dude, keep it up.

Bill said...

Ironically, I just finished reading this one last night (picked it up from the library), and I agree, it's fantastic.

jake saint said...

Speaking of:
A friend's reaction upon encountering my copy of Essential Luke Cage Vol. 1 : "Man, I'd hate to see the superfluous collection!"

AnthonyF said...

I love The Forty-Niners, but I can't imagine it (or Smax) working at all if you haven't read the 12-issue Moore series. Those who didn't like it should read that and then give it another chance.

The other, Jerry Ordway drawn Top Ten series (Beyond the Farthest Precinct, I think) is pretty bad.

jim treacher said...

Yeah, that latest Top 10 series stunk. I've never read Paul D. Fillipio's books, but his comics work just goes to show that ability in one medium doesn't necessarily translate to another. (See also Brad Meltzer.)

Ken Begg said...

What I love about the art is that it really shows how costumes look on people--not good. Look at the panel reproduced here with Skywitch, and how realistically dorky her costume looks.

Despite everyone wearing uniforms, the non-idealized bodies and the realistic fit and thickness of the clothes (once the comic book province of pretty much only Gene Colan) still makes them look pretty clunky. Of course, lots of fashions look bad, especially on non-models, but it certainly helps with the deconstruction Moore is attempting.

Fanboy said...

I agree with you. This GN totally kicked ass -- and was filled to the brim with social commentary that worked.

Edward Liu said...

"What I love about the art is that it really shows how costumes look on people--not good."

I beg to differ. =8^) Though I generally agree with you -- I think almost every live-action superhero has looked like a total dork.

I'm also not entirely convinced that one needs to have read the original Top 10 to enjoy this OGN. The two really don't have much to do with each other beyond the setting and one character (whose character arc becomes a "how are we getting there" story rather than a "where are we going" story if you've read the original series). I suspect that if you didn't like this OGN, then you're probably not going to like the original series for mostly the same reasons.

Of course, you will also be a Commie Pinko dirtbag who hates America because Top 10 Rocks the Free World, but that's another matter entirely. I love Top 10, and was a bit disappointed that we weren't getting more Smax, Toybox, Irma Geddon, Sgt. Kemlo, and the rest of the gang. Leave it to Moore & Ha to give me a bunch of characters just the slightest bit less winning as the last ones. This doesn't reflect poorly on this OGN as much as it is a statement on the high-water mark set by the original series.

Solario said...

" I love Top 10, and was a bit disappointed that we weren't getting more Smax, Toybox, Irma Geddon, Sgt. Kemlo, and the rest of the gang."

You didn't read the Smax followup mini?

And yeah Top Ten is all kinds of awesome. It was in the first bunch of trades I bought when I got back into comics.

rad steveness said...

exactly how close are we talking about here, where you say really really close? Like Lance Bass close?

ohgrl said...

Busier than Arsenio? Da-aamn!No one works harder than Chunky A.

Top Ten is in my top five must reads. I loves it, even Beyond the Farthest Precinct, although I agree with anthonyf that it wasn't as good. I never could get into Smax, though. Just not my style, I guess.

Dennis said...

I dearly love the various Top Ten series (Beyond the Farthest Precinct excepted), but I've always been a little surprised that the ephebophilic romance here and the positive depictions of incest in Smax and bestiality in the original series have passed with so little comment.

James said...

but I've always been a little surprised that the ephebophilic romance here and the positive depictions of incest in Smax and bestiality in the original series have passed with so little comment.

Well, as to the bestiality, Kemlo is portrayed as being basically human -- I mean, he's not the same species as his girlfriend, but neither is Superman, right? The incest, I admit, squicked me, and continues to do so. And the thing with Jetlad -- I don't know. If the character were female, under 18 but presented as thoughtful, level-headed and mature, would we still be as uncomfortable? Well, okay, yeah, yeah we would. But he is portrayed as very adult, which tends to take the attention off it -- his fumbling advances to Skywitch, for instance, are merely kind of cute and sad, not pervy.

Dennis said...

I think Moore intentionally contrasts the Wulf/Jetlad relationship with the sidekicks sex ring in the main series in part, I think, to suggest that adult-teen sex is often exploitative, but isn't necessarily so. But Wulf's commenting on his attraction to the 11 year old Jetlad on the newsreels dragged me outside my comfort zone, and I think that was intentional.

In the context of the sexually transgressive subplots, the bestiality plot was a bit of a cheat. The adult consensual incest plot and the Wulf/Jetlad relationship both carried the implicit question of whether justice would be served if the state were to punish the protagonists, and can both be analogized to the real world. To do the same with the Kelmo plot requires one to posit a sentient dog.

Still, it felt to me like Moore went in with a laundry list of sexual situations which were sufficiently outré to make progressives uncomfortable, and plotted his story in such a way as to suggest that blanket condemnation of people who engage in these acts is wrongheaded.

cowchickenwhale said...

Hi Dave, big fan of your blog. Slightly off topic but was just wondering what you think about the new 9/11 comic:

Also, I'd love to see you do an entry on Asterix..

Dan Coyle said...

Actually, it looks like Zander Cannon will be writing a new Top Ten book, with Gene Ha involved in some capacity.

Edward Liu said...

Solario asks: "You didn't read the Smax followup mini?"

I did. It's just not enough.

Peter Hensel said...

Dennis: So, the man with a lavishly packaged and produced erotica writes a story about sexual deviancy? The shock!

Dennis said...

Peter: I'm not so much shocked at Moore's writing as I am surprised at the lack of critical response to those aspects of the story.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering if someone would mention "Lost Girls". I think it's relevant.

ISTM Moore gradually ramped up to this in the original series. We have Jack Phantom, who is gay (though not sexualized at all). Girl One, who's designed by obnoxious fanboys to be sexy, and who walks around with no clothes on. The shapeshifting alien porn star. The prostitution subplot. Loud robot sex in the background. Even the godlike alien says that "****ing is very important".

ISTM Moore was working on some of the issues he'd deal with more openly in "Lost Girls". But he's much more stealthy about it here. And there are pretty clear distinctions between "good" and "bad"... the pedophiles and Mrrgla are bad, Steve and Wulf and Smax and the dog are good.

Mind, Moore cheats a bit here; he makes the sympathetic characters very sympathetic indeed. Who could object to Kemlo having a date, or Captain Traynor coming home to dear old Wulf? Mrrgla Qualtz, on the other hand, eats peoples' brains.

Anyway. I'm sure others have picked over this ground already.

Doug M.

Mikey said...

Bought The 49ers TPB on the basis of this review. Very glad I did.

K.Fox, Jr. said...

Awesome post, dave. Sorry I haven't dropped you a line recently.

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muebles burgos said...

This can't work in reality, that's what I think.

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