Sunday, 28 September 2014

Star Trek: The Space Between (#1-6)

"Lets get to work" - Riker

Hmmm, I've been enjoying my comics far too much recently.  Time to engage in some painful self-flagellation.  Don't worry, I won't get naked if you don't, but I am going to put myself through another Star Trek: The Next Generation comicbook review.  Why do this when I know only a couple of people will read this?  So the good stuff looks better by comparison I guess. The last one I reviewed, Hive was diabolically awful.  This is better, it is merely completely dreadful.  I don't understand why Star Trek: The Next Generation seems so difficult for writers to "get".  It's a vibrant and detailed universe with well defined and interesting characters and yet the comics based on it seem to be written and drawn at gunpoint.  There's a real feeling of "oh that'll do, the fans will eat this shit up whatever we make" about them and this one is no exception, being as sloppily drawn as it is lazily scripted.  It is NOT GOOD.  I am resisting the temptation to crack a lame joke about the only "space between" being the one between my ears for buying this crap when I have been burned several times before. Oh I just did anyway? Whoops, now I hate myself more. Moving swiftly on, this is basically five stand alone stories from various points in the Next Generation's seven Tv seasons that turn out to be connected in a very vague way by revelations in the final issue.  It was released in 2007 by IDW ,written by David Tischman and art by Casey Maloney and Leonard O'Grady.

The first chapter is set during The Next Generation's first season, because we have Tasha Yar still alive and Riker without a beard.  The Enterprise has arrived at a planet called Tigon which has recently opened communicatiosn with the Federation.  Riker, Tasha and Data beam down to meet with Chanceller Lomac to discuss possible Federation membership.  As they beam down there is an energy pulse on the planet. They are met by Edic who tells them they are all plugged into a planetwide internet type thing via implanted bluetooth like devices.  When they meet the chancellor it turns out to be a woman called Kadec.  No trace of Lomac appears to be stored in either the planets supercomputer or peoples memories.
To be fair the TV shows fights were lame as well
Data investigates and finds that as they arrived a large portion of data was wiped from the computer.  Then Riker and Tasha are stunned and imprisoned, while Data is incapacitated and the followers of Kadec start messing with his brain.   At the same time a huge pulse sends the Enterprise flying away from the planet and we get this odd exchange, Geordi says even at full warp they can't resist the pulse. 

Worf: "If we do not act soon we will end up in the Gamma Quadrant and I for one do not wish to go there"

Well, uh, Worf... when Voyager ended up in the Gamma Quadrant it initially was given that it would take seventy-five years to get back.  So yeah, you might end up in the Gamma Quadrant in many years from now, but I think it's unlikely.  Anyway Picard decides they can use the power of the pulse and full warp to slingshot round and arrive back in time to just before the pulse was fired.  Now I know Kirk and Co. pulled this kind of stuff before but Next Generation usually had a more "realistic" portrayal of time travel.  But whatever.

Back on Tigon, Data is having his memories modified so he'll report back that he has a spiffy time on the planet.  This doesn't explain how this is supposed to jibe with the Enterprise being attacked and Tasha and Riker being imprisoned but there we go. Meanwhile Tasha and Riker escape captivity by using a communicator to overload the Tigon guards bluetooth, then engaging in the lamest fight seen ever.
Recovering from a brain fiddle
The reason all this is happening is that th government uses it control of the main computer and peoples brains to retcon history, which is what happened to Lomac as the away team arrived on the planet. The Enterprise arrives back in time and takes out the pulse cannon. Tasha and Riker get to Data then Edic arrives with guards and arrests Kadec.  He arrests her on charges of crimes against the state and apologises to Riker and Co.  The issue ends with Data moping in Ten Forward and Tasha staying with him as he ponders his quest for humanity.

The next chapter is set during season 5 as Picard makes mention of Spock staying on Romulus.  He is taking time off to go on a Federation sponsored archeological dig.  The team uncover a two hundred year out shuttle pod and a bag of harmonic diamonds.  Immediately a fight breaks out over who can have them as they are insanely valuable.  Which I find amazing for two reasons, first of all its a Federation Dig, so they should be on it's way to a museum, though writers seem to equate Picards archeological adventures as looting expeditions.  Secondly well, whatever do they need the money for?  Picard in the film First Contact says it better than I:

PICARD: The economics of the future are somewhat different. ...You see, money doesn't exist in the twenty-fourth century.

LILY: No money! That means you don't get paid.

PICARD: The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. ...We work to better ourselves ...and the rest of humanity.
The crashed shuttlepod
So, anyway with that said they each take a diamond apart from Picard who says the assisstant with them can have his.  Then the next day they find the comm's unit smashed and the phasers missing.  Soon everyone is dead, except for Picard and one of the archeologists.  He and Picard manage to find a way into the ruins in the hope they can find some way of contacting the Enterprise.

Oh I forgot, on the Enteprise is  small sub-plot in which Beverly Crusher invites Deanna Troi to share a holodeck program based on Saturday Night Fever.  This is almost good until we get this remark from Bev:

Beverly: "Sometimes jazz and tap can feel - I've lost five pounds"


Anyway, back with the archeologists, Picard using a deduction worthy of Jessica Fletcher surmises that the archeologist with him killed the rest and has the diamonds. The archeologist pulls a weapon on Picard and makes to leave him locked in the ruins but is ambused by Riker and Co.  There is no explanation for how they knew Picard needed them.  At the end Picard ponders that the diamonds gave out harmonics that stimulated greed centres but didn't affect him because he's a badass Captain.  He also ends up with the diamonds which he at least uses to finance more digs rather than for his own enrichment.
Ahahahaha, that's one of the worst drawings I have ever seen in a comic.
Chapter three is harder to place in Trek chronology.  Worf and Troi are definitely intimate by this point, whereas the finale of Trek has them dating but it's heavily implied it was their first kiss Picard interupted.  So it must take place between the end of season seven and the film Generations.  Anyway, the ship is attacked and Troi is injured, Worf goes to help her before coming to the bridge as ordered.   The ship attacking them takes out their engines and communications, leaving them having to rely on the shields to keep them safe while they figure out what's going on.  After the conference Picard dresses down Worf:

Picard: "We all appreciate the help you gave Commander Troi.  Indeed, your actions may have saved her life.  But when my first officer gives you an order, you respond.  Immediately and without hesitation.  Regardless of personal relationships."

What. The. Fuck?  I know Picard is stickler for protocol but he would NEVER prioritise that over the life of a valued crew member.  This is insanely out of character for him.  Bad writer, BAD.  
Things that make you go boom.
Data, Worf and Riker investigate the attack and conclude it might have been deliberately targeted at Troi.  Who manages to stagger out of sickbay and tell them there is no one on the ship.  After some technobabble they figure out that if they get right up close to the enemy ship that is being piloted by remote control they can interrupt the transmissions it's receiving, which causes it to blow up.  Later Picard and Data discuss the events.

Picard: "That ship was designed to destroy the Enterprise... we got lucky Data. But we still don't know who our enemy is."

The next story is most likely set during season five as Ensign Ro Lauren is part of the crew.  She, Geordi and Worf are returning from some Starfleet briefings.  A massive solar flare from a nearby planet causes them to crash on an icey planet.  They manage to find shelter in a monastary, but Geordi gets seperated from them by falling into a hole so they Worf and Ro go to find him, but are attacked by the monks who seem to have a zombie like infection.

Meanwhile the Enterprise has registered the shuttle is missing but don't know where to look for them.  They are also transporting the ex-leader of the planet Wyath called Ghud, who is to stand trial for crimes against the people and he needs to be delivered on time or his trial could be nulified.  He has found religion while in exile and offers to help find the missing crew members.  Picard allows it with heavy supervision and Ghud alters the long range sensors to detect Geordi's visor and Ro and Worf's metal accoutrements.
Attack of the killer monks.
Geordi, Worf and Ro discover that the monks have been affected by contaminated water fueled by excess solar radiation.  They come under heavy attack but as all seems hopeless the Enterprise arrives and beams them up.  The monks are cured and Ghud is taken to his trial on time, with Picard wishing him luck as he goes.  This is probably the best story in the book, the fight scenes are cool and its refreshing not to have the helpful former bad guy betray a trust.  It's still not great, but it's passable as a Next Generation story.

The next story is set early in season two as the Evil One has replaced Beverly as Chief Medical Officer and Wesley is moping about his mum being away.  They are called to a farming colony called Armada where something has gone wrong with the crops.  Wesley hand out with three teenagers who are unhappy with their lot, one has been accepted to Starfleet Academy but has to stay and work the land.

Cumin:  "Me and Rori work the fields for ten hours a day, then school for another four. No times for friends or fun."

Really, people in the future are miserable unfulfilled? But what about First Contact!Picard's comment that "We work to better ourselves ...and the rest of humanity."  Why it's almost as if the neo-marxist utopia of a culture without money and supposed freedom to live how you wish is in fact completely unworkable in practice. 
Anyway, turns out the farmers were using chroniton particles from a crashed Romulun torpedo to speed the growth of the crops.  One of the teenagers finddled with this to turn the crops bad so his brother could leave for Starfleet. When Wesley confronts them and tells them to confess he gets into a fight with the eldest teen, Cumin.  And wins!  Now I can believe a lot of things.  I can believe a man can fly.  I can believe in a ship that  is bigger on the inside than the outside.  I can believe the default shape for aliens is four limbs and a head.  But I CANNOT believe acting pansy Wesley Crusher would win in a fight with a teenager older, taller and more muscled from working the land.  Well, after the beatdown, the teens 'fess up and that's that.

Then we return to the post-season seven present and Picard wakes with a sudden realisation.  The various incidents they have investigated over the years shown here have been duplicated on other planets, for example chroniton particles were used to ruin crops on a Cardassian colony and a Maquis ship self destructed after finding some harmonic diamonds.

Data: "...Someone is using information from Starfleet logs to create offensive weapons".

Picard: " Our purpose is exploration.  That anyone would pervert that information for political or military purposes could destory everything the Federation built."

The final issue have Riker, Worf, Data, Geordi and Troi infiltrating a secret Federation base they have (somehow) concluded is organising these attacks. Meanwhile Picard is talking to Admiral Nechayev about it and she warns him off.  When they stop talking we see her talking to a shadowy figure saying "he knows".
A standoff
The away team search the computers on the base and find them empty, this is a trap. Picard is discussing Mechayev with the groundskeeper at the Starfleet Headquarters called Boothby.  He says he's heard whispers about this clandestine Federation activity, he leaves and when Picard is alone he is attacked, before he is killed someone who remains mysterious but who is probably Nechayev, beams him out.  He finds himself on the secret base and a man holds him at phaser point and tells him why they are doing what they do.

Man:  "You are allowed to explore because we keep the galaxy safe".

Then the away team arrive and point their phasers at him, but he has back up as well.  Stuck in a Mexican standoff, Geordi tries to detonate the bombs they set up to blow up the base, but they were neutralised.  So Picard and the rest beam away having accomplished precisely nothing.  They still decide to throw a party like they had acheived some kind of victory and the comic ends with Picard toasting the crew.  What?  Is that it?!  Picard and Co.  just give up and carry on their merry way.  Can I point to the terrible film Insurrection to show that the Enterprise will rebel against the Federation if the cause is just.  But the baddies are not defeated here and the comic just ends abruptly.
Why are you celebrating?!!!
I probably don't need to reiterate how bad this comic is.  The stories are poor, the art sloppy and everyone is terribly off-model.  The regular female cast is sidelined, and the ending defies belief.  The plot thread holding the stories together is incredibly contrived and the net result of the final issue is to make you feel like your time has been completely wasted.  At least no one was killed off in this comic, but otherwise this is worthless in all respects.  Bad times.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Lobo: Portrait Of Bastich (The Last Czarnian #1-4, Lobo's Back #1-4)

 "I'm Lobo! I killed all the Czarnians! I couldn't have missed her! Not her!" - Lobo

In the 90's, something happened to comics.  They got dark.  This didn't happen overnight, there had been a long build-up since the mid-1970's.  Marvel had given us anti-heroes like Wolverine and The Punisher who were willing to kill, unlike the shiny heroes of the Silver Age.  And Alan Moore was pushing boundaries at DC laying the foundation for the future  Vertigo imprint with his seminal run on Swamp Thing.  The real tipping point for the creation of what TV Tropes terms the Nineties Antihero though was the one-two punch of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.  A lesson was learned from these two series, unfortunately it was the wrong lesson.  Adultness was conflated with extreme violence rather than narrative complexity and soon a horde of irony free murdering psychopath "heroes" were unleashed on the world by the early Image gang and the Marvel and DC comics playing catch-up with them.  This of course was ripe for parody, what's interesting about this Lobo book is that it actually collects two series from 1990 and 1991, before the worst excesses of the Image era happened.  It's both a prescient parody and an embodiment of a change that was taking place, and not always a change for the better.  Luckily it more than stands the test of time in other ways, being wonderfully drawn by Simon Bisley and hilariously written by Keith Giffen and Alan Grant.

Lobo was created in 1983 as a fairly uninteresting villian and was rarely used until the comics collected in this trade paperback redefined him as a ridiculously over the top anti-hero, gaining him a significant cult following that has kept him a regular in the DCU ever since.  Even creator Keith Giffen seemed bemused by this, in an interview from 2006 quoted on Wikipedia he said "I have no idea why Lobo took off... I came up with him as an indictment of the Punisher, Wolverine hero prototype, and somehow he caught on as the high violence poster boy. Go figure."  It was the 90's Keith, nothing more needs to be said.
Look he maybe a parody, but he is pretty badass as well.
Although Keith Giffen is an American writer, he only supplied the plot outline and breakdowns.  The dialogue and art are something of a 2000AD reunion-fest, with Judge Dredd writer Alan Grant giving us the words and ABC Warriors/Slaine artist Simon Bisley on pictures.  Bisley is one of my favourite artists, although I prefer his work either in black and white or painted, the grungy colour palette here can't disguise the sheer manic energy of his work.  If you are wondering what a "Bastich" is by the way, it's a family friendly version of "bastard" which Lobo used when he was starring in more mainstream DCU comics.  Ironically, in this collection, he uses "bastard" freely as this is/was aimed at (im)mature readers.
He's not all bad.  He lives with a pod of space dolphins and is known to "frolick" with them sometimes.
The first miniseries - The Last Czarnian has a very straightforward plot.  Lobo currently works loosely for interplanetary peacekeeping team called L.E.G.I.O.N, whose boss - Vril Dox- beat Lobo in a fight and now Lobo has to do jobs for him.  The latest job is to go collect a prisoner called E.J Tribb from jail on another planet ( she flunked the kid of an important figure there which got her arrested) and bring her to the L.E.G.I.O.N headquarters, which Lobo goes off to do with much ill grace.  He is even more pissed off when he finds out that not only is the person he has to collect another Czarnian, meaning he Lobo isn't the last (Lobo used a bio-weapon to wipe his people out so he could be unique) but she is also his fourth grade teacher and the author of his unauthorised biography as well (text excerpts of which are included to provide more backstory of Lobo's terrible misdeeds).  But she has to be delivered alive, so after Lobo casually murders the police chief who was in charge of holding her for being pissy with him, off they ride on Lobo's badass spacebike.
Lobo escorts Ms. Tribb
The main joke behind this miniseries is that Lobo and his charge keep pissing people off as they travel.  This includes a gang of Lobo fans and  some tooled up little old ladies who want to kill Tribb for writing the Lobo book, as well as the cops whom Lobo killed the head of, and a group of space truckers and a ballet company who specialise in very violent ballet whom Lobo manages to aggravate as well.  They all converge just outside L.E.G.I.O.N HQ waiting for them to arrive so they can attack.  This turns out to have been a deliberate gambit by Vril Dox to rid himself of some troublesome elements of society as he lays it out for us at the start of issue three.

Vril Dox:
"Started well, too. Lobo took out that problematic police chief - a potential rival.  The paramilitary grannies go after him.  Lobo can take care of them too - and remove another troublesome radical group.   Ditto that for the gang of space biker hoodlums.  The truckers and the Destructo Dance Company were and unexpected bonus... especially with the way the truckers union has been dabbling in politics.  It was so simple.  Lobo kills.  And w walk in a restore order."

But between issue's Lobo and his charge have gone missing, causing Vril Dox to freak out.  But where can Lobo be.  Well, he was knocked out via gas and he and Mrs. Thribb were kidnapped to take part in a spelling bee.  Yes, really.  The aliens are the Orthogrophy Commandos, to whom falls the task of "making the universe free of the ignorant and functionally illterate".  Things look bad for Lobo, but the aliens ask him to spell words like "genocide" and "mutilation".  So as the rest of the contestants are killed off, the final ends up between Lobo and Tribb.  The aliens then say they have to  "Spell, conjugate and suggest suitable antonyms".  This causes Lobo to complain that it isn't fair that he is up against a teacher.  Tribb pipes up that she's been badly abused by Lobo, he even cut her legs off to stop her wandering off.  This offence results in Lobo being even more securely locked down.
Spelling Bee's are srsbznss
However, they haven't put gas jets around him now so he simply bursts out of confinement and horribly murders the aliens, then takes Tribb and goes on his way.  He checks in with the panicking Vril Dox, but tells him he needs a break and is going to Revel-7 the party world.  He says this over an unsecure line, and all the groups waiting for Lobo and Tribb to arrive outside L.E.G.I.O.N's headquarters, fly off to Revel-7 instead, a planet with billions of inhabitants, causing Vril Dox even more upset.  Relaxing and drinking mai-tai's Lobo is unimpressed:

Lobo: *sigh* A friggin' colostomy woulda been more fun than this."

So he decides to liven things up a bit.  And annouces over the planetary tannoy system:

Lobo: "Enjoyin' yer vacations? Good! 'Cuz now it's time for me to start enjoyin' mine. The rules are simple so listen exactly five hours I start killin' anyone still on this mudball."
Yes, basically the plot is resolved by everything exploding.  You expected more?!
And he sits back glugging booze and enjoying the mass panic that has broken out as everyone scrambles to their spaceships. He does say he was only joking to himself, and that he couldn't hang around to kill anyone anyway as he gave his word to Vril Dox (who has just dispatched L.E.G.I.O.N shock troops to deal with the groups waiting for Lobo in orbit around Revel-7) to deliver Tribb alive.  As Lobo leaves the planet with her, all five of the groups after them get blown up either by crashing into each other or smashed to smithereens by the speedy exodus of holidaymakers from the planet, leaving Lobo oblivious to having been followed by them.Lobo delivers Tribb into a depressed Vril Dox's company. 

Vril Dox:
".. you did a good job. I'll take her into custody now."

Lobo: "Thanks.  Thought ya'd never say it. Class dismissed teach."

And he breaks Tribbs neck.

Lobo: "Delivered alive and into your custody - that was the deal - didn't say nothin' 'bout after you had custody!  Have a nice day.. haw haw haw!"

And so ends the first miniseries that redefined Lobo as a totally over the top violent grotesque of a character, whose misdeeds are so gloriously rotten, you can't help liking the bastich.  Well I do anyway.  The next miniseries included in this volume - Lobo's Back - manages to be even more offensive mainly of grounds of religion.  Dealing as it does, with Lobo's extensive misadventures in DC's Judeo-Christian afterlife.  The "story" driving things is even thinner than the first miniseries.  Basically Lobo gets killed while trying to collect a big bounty target and the rest of the story is him trying to get reincarnated just before his death so he can win the fight.  Hilarity, as they say, ensues.

[Just an aside, but the DCU afterlife and general theological issues that come from having characters like Wonder Woman who has ties to the Greek Pantheon and characters like the Spectre who is basically a Christian angel are incredibly fascinating.  Many writers have depicted a very Dante inspired heaven and hell in the DCU, but when masses of aliens died during the crossover series Invasion, they set up their own heaven and hells on the fringes of the Christian heaven and hell.  As well as the Greek Gods actually existing, there are also the New Gods to consider as well. And as this Lobo series will prove, Buddha, Kali and possibly Zeus and Odin are lurking about as well.  I could literally write a thesis on religion in the DCU it's so magnificently complicated yet weirdly inclusive.  Anyway, back to Lobo.]
A duel with added MANLINESS
The miniseries begins with Lobo bemoaning the state of his finances and deciding to take up bounty hunting.  He targets a high value bounty, a man called Loo and confronts him on a planet called Dooly-7.

Lobo: "Yer my kinda guy Loo. Almost makes me feel sorry fer the brutality and carnage that's about to go down.  Almost"

Loo: "Ya ain't taking me in alive Lobo!"

Lobo: "Whatever made yah think I intend to?"

They then exchange a terrific amount of gunfire.  Then start knife fighting when the ammo runs out.  Before Lobo can declare victory, Loo calls out for help from "Brother Feces" and Lobo is blown in half and killed by the dwarf that was hiding in Loo's bag.
"Gaze into the Fist Of Dre..Lobo!"
Lobo arrives in the Afterlife stark naked and brutalises his way to the head of the queue for Judgement.  Turns out that Hell refuses to take Lobo and leaves him as Heaven's problem.  Lobo says they need to reincarnate him on Dooley-7 but his request is refused.  He is assigned an angel spirit guide called Duffiel to take him on his way.

Lobo: "Am I gonna haveta wear those girlie robes?"

Duffiel: "I'm uh.. afraid so.  Um, pardon me for asking but.. bit of a hit with the ladies were you?"

Lobo: "Ain't had no complaints bird-boy!  Think that gag'll get by without being censored?"

Duffiel: "Hard to say.  We've not had an editor up here yet."

Tee hee!  Anyway, Lobo isn't too impressed with Heaven, and soon has grabbed a lute and is singing heavy metal and causing the assembled angels to start slam dancing.  Lobo ends up back in the Afterlife Bureaucrat's office, saying this could all be sorted if they would just send him back to Dooley-7.  The bureacrat refuses and sends Lobo off to hell with an emissary the Jack Kirby creation Etrigan the Demon.  They end up having a punch-up and Lobo is returned to the bureaucrat with the threat that if they don't take him back, all of Hell will move in with Heaven to escape him.

Finally the bureacrat agrees to allow Lobo to reincarnate.  But decides to screw him over at the last moment.  Instead of sending him back to Dooley-7 in Lobo's present, he sends him back to London in 1940 during the worst days of the Blitz.  Also he puts him in a female body.
AAAH My Eyes! My Eyes!!
After some lighthearted jabs at stereotypical cockneys and a brawl with a patriotic superhero, Lobo manages to get hit by a cannon (!) and killed, which sends him back to the processing centre of the Afterlife.  And he is NOT happy.

Lobo: "Three guesses what happened to ta th'last clown ta cross me?  In exactly one minute, if I am still here, I show you."

Lobo is put up for reincarnation again.  But just after he is sent to Dooley-7 one of the lackeys admits to the bureacrat that Czarnian (Lobo's racial name) means something else in an obscure Dooley-7 dialect.  Turns out it's a type of squirrel, which Lobo incarnates as, much to his displeasure.  It's a short-lived incarnation anyway, Lobo is still battling Loo and when he gets blown in half he falls on Squirrel-Lobo and kills him, sending a raging Lobo back to the Afterlife Processing Centre.  He also earns a slap from Death (the Neil Gaimen version believe it or not) for trying to feel her up.  He's greeted back in the afterlife by guns, lots and lots of guns.
Heaven's Christian Soldiers.
The final issue is not drawn by Simon Bisley, but by Christian Alamy doing a creditable job of imitating Bisley's style (so much so that I wondered if it was an alias given the subject matter of this issue, but according to Google Mr. Alamy is real, if somewhat mysterious).  Anyway this issue is mainly one massive long scene of Lobo going apeshit in the Afterlife. He's unimpressed with the first wave of soldiers who attack him.

Lobo: "Keep 'em coming.  I ain't biased.  Hindu, Christian, Jew, Agnostic, Baptist.. yer all the same to tha' main man. Frag fodder!"

More soldiers, including elites and flying ones from various heavens and hells attack as well as a papal parody of Sgt. Rock and Easy Company.  He murderises them all.  It is pointed out that no one is actually dying because they are already dead, but Lobo is making things painful and inconvenient for everyone.  And then, oh dear, as if things haven't got offensive enough, a gang of Gods from various pantheons attack him.
Mere words could not do the blasphemy justice.  I'm an atheist and even I'm offended (slightly).
And where is the Christian God while all this is happening, He isn't fighting, He's got his feet up chortling at the action as He watches it on a celestial television.   When an angel asks Him if He shouldn't be doing something, He tells the angel to "shuddup 'an fetch Me another brewski".  I admit it, I laughed.  Now I am probably going to a Hell I don't believe in. 

Finally after beating down all the other Gods, Lobo makes it back to the Bureaucrat's place, but gets shot with a reincarnation cannon, which does this time send him back to Dooley-7.  But just after he got shot in half.  This time though he stays living and shoots and kills both Feces and Loo.  Then wanders off on his hands, with his legs slung over his shoulder, looking for a stapler.  The miniseries ends with Lobo having immortality granted to him because they never want him back in the Afterlife again.  Which is a character element that stuck over the years, at least until the universal DC reboot of The New 52.  Which must have rebooted the Afterlife as well, or something.
Finally Lobo gets what he wanted and only one jillion beings had to be horribly rekilled to get it.
It goes with out saying that it doesn't just cross the line once, it doesn't just cross the line twice.  It picks the line up and uses it as a skipping rope, all the while cackling madly.  It might be offensive of about eight billion levels, but it's equal opportunity offense, so there's that I guess.  This book is everything the moral guardians who look down on comics as a medium say they are, Frederic Wertham would have a heart attack if he read this.  But it's so gleefully in-your-face about it's crudity and violence that I can't help but enjoy it immensely.  The artwork is a big part of it I admit, but the jokes are blackly comic and the plot's ludicriously simple yet fun.  This is not a book for everyone, and reading it in one go is like binging on a whole packet of biscuits; bad for you and leaves you feeling faintly sick, but well, at least it was doing it with it's tongue rammed firmly in it's cheek.  It's the legion of irony free followers that came soon after that were the problem. Still, we can't blame Lobo for that. I think the inclusion of Lobo battling various Gods was maybe taking things a bit too far, but what is art if not to push boundaries? This is pure fun and I like it, so there and that's about the best justification I can come up with for liking the unjustifiable.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Borderlands: Origins

"Pandora is what you make of it" - Marcus

Yes, it's videogame spin-off comic time again folks.  I'll be doing one of these a month ladies and gentlemen and there's nothing you can do to stop me. It's a brief one this week so bear with me.  Anyway it seems fitting to cover this tie-in to the Borderlands game franchise now, as I am madly playing the hell out of Borderlands 2 again (I will complete all the challenges dammit!), mopping up the DLC Achievements of the first game,  and eagerly counting the days before the "Pre-Sequel" is released.  The first Borderlands game was released in 2009, it is a first person shooter with three notable differences from the usual FPS fare.  First of all it has a role playing game type progression where killing enemies nets you experience and you level up.  Next it has randomised loot instead of set weaponry so every gun is unique.  Finally instead of realistic graphics it has a very striking "cel shaded" style which means it actually looks like a 3D comic book in action.  There was also much black humour in the storyline which was really dialled up to hilarious levels for the sequel.  The story behind the game is fairly simple.  On a crapsack world called Pandora, which is infested with bandits, mutants and monsters there is a mythical Vault, supposedly full of treasure.  You pick one of four characters, Roland, Lilith, Mordecai or Brick all of whom play differently and follow the trail to the Vault, getting stronger and finding better guns along the way (and the Vault?  Turns out to be full of "tentacles and disappointment", oh well, at least the journey to it is fun). 

The actual Vault Hunters you play as don't get any characterisation until the sequel which sees them return as main, non-playable characters in the plot while you play one of four new characters.  It fell to this comic released just before the sequel to fill in some of the backstory of the four original Vault Hunters.  Although chronologically these stories take place just before the first game in the series, the information and backstory provided becomes far more relevant and important to understanding them and their motivations in Borderlands 2.  With that said, let's crack on.
A promotional screenshot from the game showing the comicbook style graphics.  From left to right: Roland, Lilith, Mordecai and Brick.
First up is Roland.  As a playable character he is a good all-rounder, who can summon a turret to add aditional fire and healing, making him good for beginners to use. All we know about him in the first game is that he has gone AWOL from the Crimson Lance army, a gang of elite mooks you fight against towards the end of the game.  In Borderlands 2 he's depicted as an out-and-out hero, one of the only truly good people on Pandora as he leads the resistence against that games Big Bad.  His passing during the second game is treated with incredible seriousness and affects all the NPC's in the game as well as being a "fuck NO!" moment for the player the first time you play through the game yourself. I'd always been curious about what events would have had to have transpired for Roland to go on the run like he did and this comic explains it all.

Roland's story begins with him reading a classified Atlas Corp memo, the big bads behind the events of the first game.  We then cut to Roland and the men under his command goofing off as they await their next assignment.  Talk turns to Roland's badassery:

Scraps: "C'mon Rollie.  I know you subdued one town's entire uprising with a taco.  A taco!"

Turns out it was just the wrapper! Scraps asks Roland to marry him jokingly, Roland says he is married to his job.  Then their superior, Higgins shows up wanting to know why Roland took the private file.  Roland denies all knowledge.  While they talk Rolands men contemplate his recent, strange behaviour - "it's like he don't want to be in the Lance no more".
The betrayal
Higgins sends Roland and his men out on a pest control mission where they are attacked by giant, mutant rhino like creatures which they take out easily.  Then Higgins appears and guns down one of them.

Roland: "He had a file on all of us. He's been siphoning money from Atlas for years.  It was going to get pinned on us and get us killed."

Higgins says he'll just have to kill them now and he and his men kill everyone but Roland.  Higgins wants him to live knowing these deaths were his fault.  Roland swears revenge no matter how long it takes and the final shot of the comic is him boarding the bus you see him on at the start of the first game.

Lilith is next.  She is a Siren, one of only six who can exist in the Universe at the same time.  This becomes more important in the sequel which revolves around Siren powers, but for now it means that she has functional "magic" powers.  In this instant she can phase in and out of reality allowing for tactical mastery of the battle area.  Probably the hardest character to use in the game but the most effective once mastered.

Her story starts with her in the present, leaning on the bus waiting for it to go.  She has a flashback to when she was a kid and her dad was dying.

Lilith's Dad: "Promise me you -KAFF- promise me Lily, that you'll see the universe.  You will see me among the stars Lily."

And he dies. Then a mysterious old woman shows up, who has the same arm tattoo's as Lilith (which signify Siren-hood).  She says Lilith will find other Siren's, both bad and good, obliquely referring to one of the baddies behind events of the first game, and Maya the playable Siren of the sequel.  She tells Lilith:

Old Woman: "We Siren have no code.  We've only our song.  It is yours to sing now."
Lilith tells it like it is.
And she falls down dead as well.  We cut back to Lilith in the present.  It seems along the way as she grew up she accrued a bounty as a bounty hunter appears behind her with a gun as does the bartender in front of her.  She phases out of existence as they both fire and kill each other, then she phases back and gets onto the bus which has Roland already on it.  She kisses him.

Roland: "What was that for?"

Lilith: "I got out and saw the galaxy, but I never - alright never kissed a boy, okay?"

This becomes funny in retrospect when you factor in that the pair of them have a tempestous on-off relationship during the gap between the two games. Lilith's portion of the book then ends with the two of them sitting in an awkward silence waiting for the next passenger.

Who happens to be Mordecai, the Hunter.  He is a master of long range weaponry and has a birdlike creature called Bloodwing who helps him out by attacking enemies with him.  When I  played Borderlands he was the character I chose to use first because he looks damn cool.  His portion of the comic begins with him already on Pandora, badly wounded.  He has passed out when a woman appears and helps him up.  She sees his wounds and wants to know who did this too him.  We then get a flashback to Mordecai fighting a gang of bandits. He manages to kill some of them and get away but not before taking afew hits himself.
Mordecai in action.
The woman helps him along, and they bump into Marcus fixing his bus.  He wants to know if Mordecai will be joining him.  Mordecai demurs.

Marcus: "This worlds needs people hungry for adventure"

Mordecai: "I'm just a guy with a bird"

Marcus: "We need those too."

He gives Mordecai his card anyway and Mordecai and the woman travel onwards.  She then leads him into a trap with the bandits he was fighting before. Seems both she and Mordecai have bounties on their heads, but Mordecai's is ten times hers and she thought she could do a deal by handing him over and getting them off her back.  Mordecai responds by cutting her hand off and Bloodwing appears.  He says to the bandits that if they take her, he won't fight them and no one has to get killed.  They agree to his terms and this section ends with Mordecai taking out and contemplating Marcus's business card.

The final member of the gang is the mysterious bruiser, Brick.  In game he is the Beserker, with the amusing ability to charge screaming at enemies punching the shit out of them.  His story begins with him climbing aboard the bus, with Roland, Lilith and Mordecai already aboard.  Roland asks him what his story is, but Brick remains silent.  Mordecai asks him if he has a name, he shows them a brick.  Then he flashes back to his younger self, "another planet, another time".

He was a member of a bandit gang who attacked towns and raided their valuables, but this time the gang leader decides to take all the towns children hostage and ransom them.  That night Brick comes to the realisation that this is wrong and goes and beats down the gang leaders.  Then he frees the children and takes them back to their parents.  A small child runs up to him with a puppy called Priscilla and gives it to him and this final part of the comic ends with Brick touching a paw on a chain round his neck.
Brick does the right thing.
It's interesting to see Brick portrayed so dourly here.  Between games he gets a lot chattier, turning into quite the deadpan snarker in Borderlands 2.  He also seems to have bad luck with his puppies.  He gets another one in the gap between games, but it gets killed by one of the villians of Borderlands 2.

This is not a comic aimed at the casual reader.  It's entirely bound-up with the gaming universe and unlike the early Gears Of War expanded universe stuff, it feels like there has been much tighter editorial control from the game studio, making sure nothing contradicts information imparted as part of the in-game canon. It would have been nice to have the stories shot through with the same black humour that makes the games so awesome, but I appreciate they had a specific job to do providing backstory,  and did it just fine. Pandora and it's inhabitants have formed a rich and interesting history in just two games and I am surprised there hasn't been more EU material based on it.  Apart from this comic, and a comic still to come and a novel, there hasn't been anything else.  Which is a pity because the dark humour that threads it's way through the Borderlands world makes for far interesting potential stories than the more po-faced universes of Halo or Mass Effect to pick two at random.  Anyway, this comic is nicely drawn and the backstory for our four intrepid Vault Hunters is interesting and enlightening.  It's not amazing, but it does the what it was supposed to do well and has me looking forward to the next comic based on the game - The Fall Of Fyrestone.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Alan Moore Obscurities: Top Ten: Book 2 (#8-12)

"Do not weep.  Being is enough. There, that is all. I am done..." - Kapela

Let's talk about artists for a moment.  One of the reasons Alan Moore's time at pre-ABC Image and Awesome comics is so unsatisfying is not just because you can tell his heart wasn't in much of what he was writing, but also due to the poor quality of the artists he was paired with.  The only one he can have been at all happy with was fellow Swamp Thing collaborator Rick Vietch's work on the flashback sequences in Moore's Supreme run, which still suffered from the problem of too many poor quality artists on the modern day sequences.  Voodoo, his most dire work by far was a four issue miniseries with seven artists working on it, all at odds with each other.  Now even the best artist in the world couldn't have made Voodoo a classic, but it might have taken some of the edge off the worst aspects of the script.  But the Image years were something of a blip and Alan Moore generally has been very lucky to have artists who are perfect for the material he writes and both make each other sing.  It would have taken a dreadful artist to ruin Watchmen, but it's testement to Dave Gibbon's talent that over twenty-five years later, while I know the script off by heart I can still spot some new nuance in the artwork I had missed up until then. Ian Gibson on The Ballad Of Halo Jones, Steve Bissette and John Totleben on Swamp Thing, Dave Lloyd on V for Vendetta, Mick Gray and JH Williams III on Promethea, Eddie Campbell on From Hell, all created definitive visions of Moore scripts, and I'm adding Top Ten artists Zander Cannon and Gene Ha to that list, for managing to balance the crazy and colourful world of a city full of superheroes with a down-at-the-heel streetview of the day-to-day life of a cop.

The first issue begins with Peregrine getting up and ready for work.  She flies up to the part of the sky used for flying vehicles.  She's been called to a "Jump Bump" where two sets of teleporting travellers crash into each other and materialise is the same spot.   One of the victims is a huge, armoured horse headed alien called Kapela, a "white cavalry piece" in some mysterious game being played across the network. The other is a couple, their spaceship fused inside Kapela, the woman is dead, the man also fused in Kapela is alive, but cannot be freed. All they can do is wait for them both to die.  This is actually a shout out to a famous Homicide:  Life On The Street episode, where a man gets trapped between a train and the platform, which virtually severs him, only keeping the train in place is keeping him alive, but nothing can be done for him except the cops being with him as he slowly dies.
The aftermath of the Jump Bump. Note Astro Boy flying past on the top lefthand side!
Back at the Top Ten precinct, the Captain is being harrassed by the friends of Libra, or M'rralga Qualtz as she is really known as, who want her freed.  They are a superteam called The Sentinels she was once part of.  The Lieutenant is resisting this as she is in fact a serial killer.  They all go to see her and Libra tries to telepathically persaude Jackie to free her but just makes Jackie mad.   Meanwhile Corbeau is getting ready to visit the desination of the Trans World ticket found during the Graczik-Gromolko case investigation, hoping to find out more about the buyer of the strange radioactive drug they found.

At the crash site Peregrine questions the dying man, who is called Mr. Nebula.  He saw a human figure in the beam before the accident as did Kapela. A station worker who was knocked unconcious by the debris from th explosion comes round and they question him too. At the precinct, the Lieutenant notifies Grand Central that Corbeau will be visiting.  Central tell him that next wednesday there will be an inspection of Top Ten.  Back at the crash site the cops figure out the station worker is actually a 'porter, or a teleporter who makes unlicensed jumps across beams and who caused the accident and they arrest him.

Peregrine elects to stay with Kapela and Mr.Nebula until they pass on.  Later that night as numbness starts to claim Mr.Nebula, conversation turns to the life and death, with Kapela talking about it in the philosophy behind the mysterious game he is part of.

Kapela: "Just look above you.  Do you see? That is called the immense board of lights.. And that is the great black. And strewn across it, small and vulnerable and brave, that is the great white."

Mr. Nebula: "...And the great white, I mean there is so much more black.  A-are we losing?"

Kapela: "No.  Once there was only black. We are winning. All is right.  We can go."

And Mr. Nebula, then Kapela die.  The final page of this very emotive issue is Peregrine in silent prayer for them both. And you may call me a massive fucking pussy, but I tear up at the end of this issue Every. Damn. Time.  *sniffle*
A prayer for the deceased
The next issue gets off to a more light-hearted start as Cowboy Duane and his partner Pete go to check on the Ultramice problem in his Mum's flat.  The exterminator says there have been "problems".  A vexed Duane just wants his Mum out of his hair.

Exterminator: "Get enought science animals together, it's a big event.  Next thing it escalates, you get a whole Secret Crisis Wars crossover thing going on.  Inevitably cosmic powers get involved. You know how it is."

Oh Alan Moore, I love you.  Having a Crisis Crossover parody with cats and mice going on in a manky flat as a very minor subplot is just glorious.  Anyway, Duane and Pete leave, Duane bemoans the lack of sex life he has with his Mum staying with him.

Pete:  "Hey come on.  It's all gonna be over soon."

Duane: "Pete, you heard what he said.  Pretty soon we could have parallel world critters involved and mice from different time periods and stuff.  I am screwed buddy."
I could look at this page all day.  It's a parody of the Galactus Fantastic Four story, with lots of little mouse parody superheroes added in.  I especially like Wonder Woman mouse in the top right corner!
Back at the precinct the Captain is talking with Libra.  She believes she is soon to be killed, maybe by one of her friends.  He asks her if she is trying to humiliate him.  Libra says she could easily do that by telling everyone he is gay.

Corbeau has arrived at Grand Central, one of the many worlds where the Roman Empire never fell.  Corbeau is rather insultingly referred to as a "nubian" and it seems good old racism is alive and well on this world.  His welcome is not what he expected as he is shanghied into competing in a gladitorial game.  Being a cerified badass he wins a place in the final  Meanwhile, as this chapter comes to an end, as Irma-Geddon is waved off to work another portent of coming disaster is given by her precog husband, who suddenly senses something terrible will happen to her.
Corbeau in action.
Next issue sees the return of Robyn and Smax investigating the shooting death of a man in a night club.  Smax also mentions that today sees the inspection of the precinct by the Commissioner. Later at roll call, Jackson says she is worried they haven't heard back from Corbeau since he left for Grand Central.  Afterwards the Commissioner appears outside in a burst of purple light.

Commissioner: "I want to see how one of our smaller, more remote precincts works, in all it's grimy detail."

Captain Trayor shows her round, and she rudely refuses to shake hands or speak to Sally-Jo who is black.  She is more interested in seeing the forensic department.  Traynor says it's locked up at the moment due to the radiative drug inside.  Commander Bailey has the keys and he is in the canteen so they go down there.

In the canteen the synathestic cop Jackson suddenly hears The Ode To Joy, the music she heard during the Graczik investigation.  She realises she was hearing smell of the Commissioners perfume, and that the Commissioner was Graczik's off-world buyer. The Commissioner fires a huge energy blast at Jackson, but Li knocks her out of the way and takes the full force, killing her almost instantly.  Now it's out in the open that she is a villain the cops spring into action.

Smax: "Captain Traynor, sir? All due respect, sir.  Permission to use extreme force"

Traynor: "Break her ****ing neck, son"
Smax is such a badass.
Smax is able to resist her blasts, as he reads her out her rights she screams "just give me the Christ-damned Xenite!"  She knocks him over with a massive blast, so he gets up and blasts her back.  In the chaos walls are broken and Libra's cell gets smashed.  Libra panics and ends up getting killed. Smax and the Commissioner continue to fight but the Commissioner has the upper hand as Smax begins to tire.  Robyn has an idea, why not give her the Xenite?  So they do, all of it in one massive dose which knocks her out (interestingly this was the exact same way Ladytron gets taken down in Moore's run on WildC.A.T.s although the drug then was heroin).  Before she passes out she lets out one huge blast, knocking down a wall on top of Robyn, which sends Smax into a griefstricken rage.  She isn't dead though, trapped under the wreckage a strange transparent man called "The Rumor" addresses her.
Sadly this mysterious being is never referred to again.  Possibly he was a plot thread to be picked up in the next "season" of stories...
The next issue shows the precinct being rebuilt and the introduction of Joe PI, the robot replacement for Li.   Something I haven't touched upon yet in these recaps is the undercurrent of prejudice suffered by robots in the Top Ten world.  They are known as "clickers", which is roughly analogous to using the word nigger in our world.  So he gets a frosty welcome from Irma, who was Li's and now Joe's partner.  At roll call Kemlo tells everyone the Commissioner is being replaced and investigated and that Corbeau has been released and also that he won the gladitorial contest off-screen.  He also has a letter for a "Jaafe Macksun" who turns out to be Smax.

The next case, the murder of a Bubblegum boy mainly functions to show off what Joe PI can do.He is thoughtful and gentle with the victims partner (and it's heavily implied this is the couple who were having a domestic in the first issue and the wife finally killed her husband), and despite Pete prejucided remarks, Irma is impressed with him.  Jackson and Corbeau's family greet him at the Trans World station, he has a spiffy trophy from winning the tournament.  Jackson wonders why Corbeau's family walk so far behind him as they leave, he says it is traditional.
Joe PI's first case at Top Ten.
Smax visits Robyn in hospital, she was lucky to escape having a wall fall on her with bruises and a broken leg. Smax tells him his uncle Mack who bought him up has died - this is setting up the Smax miniseries that spun off from Top Ten. At the Top Ten precinct Captain Traynor is impressed by Joe PI's interview technique.  "Yeah he's real efficient" snaps Irma.

In the hall, Pete is mouthing off anti-robot prejudice while trying to get a candy bar out of a vending machine.  Joe appears and comments that is more common for humans to be aroused by robots than vice versa.  Pete is skeptical as he stands with his hand in the vending machine.

Joe PI: "Well with respect, I should point out that you're the one feeling up my retarded, hill-billy cousin Emmy Sue in public."

Pete: "WHAT?!" (jumps back in horror)

Joe PI: "Emmy Sue it breaks my heart to see you lowering yourself to this.  Cover yourself up girl and we'll say no more about it"

This makes Duane and Jackson helpless with laughter while Pete grouches that he needs to go wash his hand now.  Later they all attend Li's funeral, except for Joe PI.  Irma meets him outside the cemetary and accuses him of not respecting Li.  Joe says he actually didn't want Irma to accuse him of feigning emotion.  This makes Irma warm to him more and she takes him home with her, breaking down about Li in his arms when they get there.
An amusing nod to the tendency for superheroes to come back from the dead as well as riffing on the old cliche that only cops attend cop funerals.
The issue ends with Smax at Robyn's house where he has been looking after he elderly father.  He tells Smax to stop ordering him about and doesn't he have a father of his own.  Smax looks stricken, then mutters "Guess not".  The issue ends with him sitting outside looking thoughtful.

The final issue (Nooo!) begins with Jackie and Peregine watching the show reels M'rralga Qualtz handed over during the Libra investigation.   She was part of a superhero team called the Sentinels, and these were records of their "space war" battles, but something seems fake about them.  Then one reel turns out to be a porno and it really demonstrates were the Sentinels were about.
Sentinals propaganda.
Meanwhile, Duane's Mum is refusing to pay the exterminator for the removal of the Ultramice, apparently the event changed time and continuity and now only the exterminator remembers.  He gets enraged as he talks about getting paid, and Pete shocks him unconcious and he and Duane take the poor guy to the precinct under arrest.  Joe PI goes to pick up Irma and proves a big hit with her husband and kids.

Irma: "Hey, you know you AI's are almost too cute. How do I unplug you when you take over the world.

Joe PI: "Ask me the purpose of existence and I explode.  Come on, let's go to work.

At roll call the Captain tells them they have linked the shooting death in the nightclub to the Libra case.   The victim was affiliated with the Sentinels as part of a team called the Young Sentinels and he was planning on selling his story to the public.  Seems the Sentinels faked all their heroic off-world deeds and are in fact a paedophile ring, with the Young Sentinels as a grooming operation, the porno they saw proved it.   So it's time to take down the Sentinels.

They bust into the headquarters and arrest everyone on conspiracy to murder and statutory rape charges.  Duane and Pete go to the mansion of big hitter Lomax, who tries to attack Duane with his car.  Duane shoots it and it blows up with Lomax inside although Lomax is thrown clear by the blast and arrested.  Corbeau and Jackson go and collect the Young Sentinels to put them in protective custody. One of them telepathically warns Atoman and he locks himself in his bunker. Joe Pi and Irma are outside it and Smax turns up and tries to blast it open.  he fails.  So Joe Pi, over the intercom manages to convince Atoman that killing himself would be preferable to standing charges of paedophilia and Atoman vaporises himself. "Problem solved" comments Joe laconically.
Duane finally gets his badass moment.
At the hospital, Smax admits to Robyn that he would like it if she accompanied him back to his home world for the funeral of his uncle.  There are complications he doesn't elaborate on, but she agrees to do so anyway. The issue ends with Captain Traynor returning home to his older male partner.

Traynor: "I love you old man.  And that's enough right? Even in a city like this?"

And the book ends with the tantalising caption "End of Season One" implying more seasons that sadly never came.

So why was there no more Top Ten besides the spin-foff Smax and prequel, The 49ers?  I haven't found a definite reason online.  Speculation seems to suggest that it was an early casualty of Wildstorm selling itseif and the ABC imprint to DC who Moore absolutely hated by this point.  If you purchase these trade paperbacks now they are out under the Vertigo imprint rather than ABC.  It seems that Moore started to drop everything he wasn't passionately dedicated to, ie: everything bar Promethea and the League Of Extraodinary Gentlemen and Top Ten wasn't one he felt as much for.  Which is an awful shame, because of all his ABC work it's my hands down favourite.  Maybe I am biased because I love cop drama, but it is so choc full of incident, jokes, lovely character moments and drama that it rewards multiple rereadings like the very best of Moore.  There is also the rumour that despite it winning awards it was cancelled due to low sales, but the prescence of spin-offs would seem to preclude that.  Still, whatever the reason for it's demise, we have twelve issues here that deserve to be more well known and cherished and no one even got raped.  You CAN do it if you try Alan!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Alan Moore Obscurities: Top Ten: Book 1 (#1-7)

 "What did your last partner die of?  Drown in charm did they?" - Robyn

In the late 90's Alan Moore was working for Rob Leifeld's Awesome comics studio and was given the chance to revamp the whole line.  But before he got very far into it, Jim Lee, the owner of the Image imprint Wildstorm gave Alan an offer he couldn't refuse.  He could create a whole shared universe with characters of his own creation rather than working with already defined ones.  The studio was named ABC - America's Best Comics and the three main series that Moore came up with were Promethea, Tom Strong and Top Ten (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was also published under the ABC imprint, but was not part of the ABCverse, relying as it did on literature and pop culture from "our" universe). Of these three comics, Top Ten feels like the most overlooked.  Promethea is a stunning tour de force that was pretty much Moore's mission statement on life. Tom Strong was a love letter to the Silver Age that people were beginning to feel intense nostalgia for after the EXTREME 90's soured people on darker comic tales.  Top Ten though for my money is actually my favourite Moore work since Watchmen, predecated on one simple idea.  What would police work be like in a city where everyone, including the cops were superheroes?  The story manages to mix the gritty slice of life detective drama of Hill Street Blues and Homicide: Life On The Street with the bright and colourful world of the American superhero tropes.  Packed full of homages, jokes, clever references and just general all round awesomeness, these twelve issues, split across two trade paperbacks are gorgeously illustrated by Zander Cannon and Gene Ha and are something pretty special.

After a written, in universe description of a trip round Neopolis with a pair of cops, the comic begins. The first well-worn cop trope of the rookie police officer as our P.O.V character to all the weirdness that is due to unfold is put into action. Robyn, who doesn't have superpowers, but does have a set of mechanical toy helpers gets in a cab driven by a man with a blindfold on who uses his "zen senses" to get around the city. At the precinct she meets Jackie Kowalski, a lesbian who can phase shift, Duane, a cowboy with mechanical legs and Kemlo, a talking doberman in a robotic humanoid exo-skeleton.
Robyn and Smax
The Hill Street Blues style daily briefing takes place, where cases are updated and handed out. A serial killer called Libra is on the loose, killing prostitutes.  This provides one of the two on-going cases that thread through the series as a whole.  The next cop show trope to come into play is the teaming of the wide-eyed newbie and the gruff veteran, in this case Robyn with Jeff Smax.  He's a large blue man who is invulnerable and can fire an energy beam out of his chest.  His previous partner died, which adds extra layers of awkwardness to their relationship.

After breaking up a domestic dispute, Robyn and Smax are called to a murder scene.  Already there are Detectives Corbeau (a devil worshipper) and Jackson, a female detective who has synathesia and is reading the scene with her enhanced senses.  Robyn lets her toys comb the scene and finds some ID and a high tech saddle in the area.  Back at the precinct she has a chat in the canteen with Irma-Geddon, a woman with high tech armour and firepower and Li a woman who can make shifting patterns across her body.  They are called away by Kemlo who says they have traced the murder victim to a drug factory which they are now going to raid.
The factory raid
Robyn, Smax, Corbeau, Li, Irma and Jackson all gather at the factory and start the raid.  They meet armed resistence which they deal with and Robyn manages to disable a Professor Gromolko who was disposing of evidence in the cellar.  He lawyers up, so they take him back to the precinct for interrogation.  They bring in detective Glushko who is a telepath, but this makes Gromolko panic and before anyone can stop him, he grabs one of Duane's guns and blows his brains out.  The day comes to an end and Jackie invites Robyn out for a drink, but when Robyn realises Jackie is hitting on her she makes her excuses and leaves.  Back home she bids her senile father goodnight and so ends her eventful first day on the job.

Next day, Irma and Li are chatting in a car on the way to work when the Zen Cabbie crashes into them.  Back in the precinct Jackson is discussing the Gromolko case with Peregrine, a woman with wings who is also a devout Christian.  They are looking for the partner of the "saddle" man Stefan Graczik, a Marta "Boots" Wesson who was also a runner for Gromolko's drug operation.

Kemlo gives a briefing, Corbeau and Jackson are to handle the Gromolko case, Duane and Cheney are to keep an eye out for Libra and check the prostitutes are safe, and someone needs to go and help Irma and Li who have broken down in a bad part of town.  Smax and Robyn go to their aid.  An unruly gang has appeared and the leader is a drunken, green monster man who Smax stuns with his chest beam.  They take him and the Zen cabbie back to the precinct.
A drunken Grograh
Meanwhile, Duane and Cheney are called to what turns out to be a headless corpse of a hooker.  The signature of the Libra killer.  Cheney is upset because he recognises her as one he let off with a warning earlier when he found her about to service a man who could inflate himself. Back at the precinct, Robyn has had an idea about using the Zen Cabbie to help them out:

Cabbie: "Where'd you want to go?"

Jackson: "Well, you tell us, right? I mean 'where we end up is where we're meant to be'. Isn't that your line? Well, you take us where we're meant to be."

They make somewhat erratic progress through the streets and wind up at a derelict museum.  There they find Marta Wesson cowering in a corner and arrest her.
Nice boots Marta
At the precinct, the pathologist Sally-Jo, who can shrink down to a minute size, is exploring inside the dead, headless hooker who has been bought in.  Cause of death being fairly obvious. Jackie and Peregrine discuss the fact that this means Libra will strike twice more if he keeps to his pattern.

Marta Wesson is kicking up a fuss at the front desk, but she is subdued and taken into interrogation.  She says all they were doing were running supplies of 'goose juice (mongoose blood) and when she is told Gromolko killed himself she goes quiet and lawyers up.  Jackson is still pondering the Mozart music she heard round "saddles" Graczik's corpse.  Cheney and Duane go to collect Glushko, and their car is vandalised by gang members angry about Grograh's incarceration.  He's in lock-up currently being needled by Smax.  Robyn is concerned about gang violence escalating over this, but Smax doesn't care.

Smax: "If Duane and Pete want to treat him like he's some special, off-limits case, then fine.  To me, he's just the delinquent kid of a wino, has-been, fifties movie monster.  He screws up on my turf, he goes down.  End of story."
Jackie, Peregrine and Cheney
Meanwhile Cheney is confessing he met the hooker to Peregrine and Jackie, who are quite angry with him.  They look up the man she was found with and go round his house to question him.  He turns out to be married and has a panic attack and starts inflating uncontrollably, trapping Peregrine in the doorway to the house.  While this is going on, Marta Wesson's lawyer has got an affidavit to prevent mind reading.  Then suddenly there is a loud rumble from outside.  A huge Godzilla like creature has appeared outside the precinct.  It's Grograh's dad and he wants his boy back.

While everyone rushes outside, a woman comes into the precinct, gives Kemlo her severed finger and faints in his arms.  Outside, the drunken monster Gograh throws up radioactive puke all over the street.  The Captain takes charge, ordering cleanup and building evacuation.  He then starts reasoning with the monster until Smax comes out and starts baiting Gograh.  The pathologist, Sally-Jo arrives and uses her shrinking technology to shrink Gograh down to a size small enough to fit in the Capatains palm.  Then Sally-Jo goes to check on the fainted woman, noting the cleaness of the cut.
Grograh's dad comes to call
In interrogation, Corbeau and Jackson manage to get Marta to tell them Graczik was delivering something special.  But he decided they could make more money dealing it on their own and ripped Gromolko off.  They went into hiding at the museum.  So Corbeau, Jackson and Glushko go to investigate.  Robyn and Snax are sent to raid a club that had been supplied goose juice, and Jackie and Pergrine arrive with the inflatable man to question him over the hooker's death.

At the museum, Jackon hears music, but not Mozart, instead The Ode To Joy.  They discover Marta and Graczik's squat and the mysterious substance they were going to deal.  It's in a cylinder and turns out to be dangerously radioactive so they can't take it away just yet they need someone immune to radiation to collect it.
Corbeau, Jackson and Glushko find the mystery substance
At the precinct Ernesto Grograh and his still tiny dad are released. In autopsy the woman is introduced as Annette Duvalle.  She saw Libra and it wasn't human:

Annette: "I saw what I saw.  It came out of the drain, and it was like purple candyfloss".

So Kemlo, Annette, Duane, Cheney and Jackie go to where she was attacked and find a drainage hole open.  They are also fed the news that the bio-traces are extra terrerestrial in origin.

As Duane and Jackie descend into the hole, Duane gets a call from his Mum about a hole in her flat. Back at the precinct, Smax and Robyn are sent to collect the radioactive substance.  Lieutenant Peregrine is being told more about the alien.  It takes heads because it requires the pineal gland.  It's lifecycle meant that it's kills fell in a pattern, but otherwise it was a coincidence they all fell under the period of the sign of Libra.

In the sewers, Duane and Jackie joke around, then suddenly Duane yells at Jackie to phase.  They are faced with a huge alien, with thrashing, razor sharp monofilaments. Pete Cheney arrivesa and usesa his electrical powers to force it into a retreat.  They call for back-up, but everyone is busy.  Jackson says there has been a break in the Graczik-Gromolko casae, a transworld ticket was found along side the radioactive susbstance.  So Duane, Cheney and Jackson carry on chasing Libra themselves.
Jackie and Duane discover Libra
It bursts out of the ground where Kemlo and Annette are, slicing off Kemlo's ear and into his exoskeleton. Pete manages to run a charge through it powerful enough to knock it out.  A special wagon arrives to take it away and the cops go for coffee to recover.  Later Duane goes to visit his Mum and finds her flat has been invaded by Ultramice.

It's snowing in Neopolis and Smax is having a strange dream in which he meets dead people like his previous partner, and also Robyn appears which concerns him slightly.  He wakes up and goes to open the closet, inside is something speaking in rhyme but we don't find out what that is all about until the spin-off miniseries Smax. He collects Robyn, having warmed to her somewhat and they arrive at the station to find out Libra has been captured.  They go take a look, she is inside a glass cylinder being watched over by Kemlo, who is out of his exoskeleton while it gets repaired. 
A disturbance is reported and Irma and Li are sent to check it out.  It turns out to be Santa, surrounded by a horde of kids, deciding who are naughty and nice.  He declares the officers naughty and dumps them in a pile of snow with his psychokinetic power.  Jackson sends a griping Smax out to give them some back-up.  Meanwhile, Duane has called an exterminator to deal with the Ultramice problem and reluctantly allows his Mum to come stay with him while the problem is dealt with.  The pest controller sends in Ultracats to deal with them and a war begins.

Back with Santa, he zaps Smax high into the air, resisting all attempts to deal with him.  Then Harry arrives from the precinct.  He is a hostage negociator who's power is that his voice must be obeyed.   This allows them to arrest Santa successfully.  Robyn and Smax head back, while Smax haltingly tells her about his dream and how he thinks he needs to be nicer to people before it's too late.  Then they are waylaid by the Norse Goddess Freya, who is distraught.  At a party in the Godz bar, someone has murdered her son.  Robyn and Smax arrive on the scene:

Smax: "Okay, Okay, we're police officers. Nobody move in a mysterious way."

Oh very good Alan. Very good.  I shall use that at the club next time I'm there.  People will be slapping my back for weeks.

At the precinct, Libra is using her telepathic power to try and get her guard to free her.  Jackosn stops the man, Hector and tells him that Libra used to be a porn star and is really called M'rrlga Qualtz.  Corbeau tells Jackson they finished testing the isotope, it's more of a compressed powder, designed to be dissolved and injected like a drug.  It's also not on their periodic table.
Trouble at the Godz bar
Jackson is called to the incident at the Godz bar.  The victim is Balder and the whole scenario is an excuse for Moore to riff comedically on Norse myth tropes.  The pathologist finds misletoe inside Balder's chest wound.  Apparently everyone was throwing things at Balder, because nothing could harm him except misletoe.  Turns out the blind God Hod threw it. Smax finds him hiding in the toilets. He says he was given the misletoe by Lokk.  Jackson asks Lokk if this is true.

Lokk: "I mean there's Balder, he's all 'look at me, I'm lovely, everything loves me'.  I mean I'm the God of Evil, what am I gonna do?"

Back at the precinct, the Captain tells Corbeau he should book a ticket to Grand Central to follow up the Graczik-Gromolko case. Then a group of heroes arrive demanding to see M'rrlga Qualtz asa she used to be a member of their supergroup.  They refuse to believe she is a killer, and when the Captain takes them to see her, she has changed into a pretty green humanoid woman.

Back at Godz, Corbeau is having a good laugh, pointing out the death of Balder is a cyclical thing.  To prove him right, Balder suddenly comes back to life to the cheers of the rest of the Gods who decide they'll celebrate by playing the "throw things at Balder" game.  Jackson declares the whole thing a waste of time and all the cops there go for coffee.  Thus ends book one.

I've really only skimmed the surface here, there are plenty of small side cases going on per issue asa well as the two on-going ones I chose to concentrate on.  There is so much character stuff crammed into the book and such a wonderful cast of characters that it really works as a mixture of gritty cop drama and superhero nonsense.  And what a great selection of female characters as well.  Quick thinking Robyn, matronly Irma, sultry Li, uber professional Jackson, gentle Peregrine, caring Sally-Jo, wise-cracking Jackie; it really goes to show Moore hasn't lost his touch when writing believable and very different female voices. It's a very talky book, but not at the expense of action, helping to flesh out the world of Neopolis through a combination of Moore's naturalistic dialogue and Cannon and Ha's exquisitely detailed artwork. It really is a shame there is only five more issues to go.