Top 10: The Forty-Niners
The city of Neopolis, the setting of Alan Moore’s Top 10, is populated only by superheroes. This prequel to the series explores how that city was established and why. The Forty-Niners is written by Alan Moore with art by Gene Ha.
In 1949, the war is over, and the “science-heroes” and other powered people have been sent to the new city. Jetlad, an air pilot hero even though he’s only 16, provides the viewpoint of the innocent, fresh in the big city. His former enemy, Sky Witch Leni Muller, has brought her jet-powered broomstick to town, looking for work, and the Skysharks (think Blackhawks) are now operating for the military.
After our World Wars, the question of how to fit heroes back into society was a troubling one. The same qualities that made someone a dedicated soldier were often counter-productive in peacetime, causing him to not fit back into the society he was fighting for. In this fantasy world, the situation is complicated by the presence of super-geniuses and beings with magical powers.
Former Germans have an especially difficult time, reminding people that not all of their people were Nazis (although there are those, too, who don’t give up the cause even though they’ve followed the money to set themselves up in a new location). Added to this world is tension and prejudice against newly recognized minority groups, although here, they’re independently operating robots and a tribe of vampires.
The bigger themes are made real for the reader through the experiences of the individual characters. Jetlad, for instance, doesn’t know who he is. He’s been flying planes since he was 11, and now, he’s treated like an adult regardless of the fact that he’s barely an adolescent, learning how to define himself through those he loves. Leni faces struggles based on her gender; prior to her joining the police force, there was only one female officer, The Maid. A version of Joan of Arc who gains her powers through belief, she’s a wonderful character we don’t see enough of.
Everyone has to reinvent themselves in one way or another. The police officers have to change from independents to working under a hierarchical structure. Former vigilantes become taxi drivers or bureaucrats, having to rely on someone else to protect them. The concerns of women’s groups cause sidekicks to be eliminated. And on another level, classic story ideas like Nazis trying to build a time machine to go back and win the war are presented in fresh, clever ways.
Moore’s imagination populates the book with hundreds of creative ideas, while Gene Ha’s beautifully realistic art is made all the more subtly powerful by Art Lyon’s sepia-tinted colors, appropriate for a story set in the past. Ha’s detailed panels, full of background jokes and allusions, wonderfully support Moore’s multi-layered script, and it’s easy to see superheroes as just plain folk, with problems the same as you or me, when they look the part.