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[whitespace] Alternate Universes

Comix creator Alan Moore hits his peak in America's Best series

By Richard von Busack

A ONE-MAN alternate universe, the British writer Alan Moore has been creating world after world full of comic-book heroes since his stint writing the adventures of future-cop Judge Dread.

As head writer for the La Jolla-based America's Best comics, distributed by DC, Moore seems finally to have complete creative control. Moore's newest comics are collected in hardback, published in good-looking editions complete with ribbon bookmarks for added swankness. In these three "America's Best" anthologies, Moore explores various styles of heroic stories, from the lore of the British Empire to the life of inner-city cops.

Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen ($24.95) is an inspired variation on the X-Men template. It follows an uneasy partnership of characters appropriated from the fiction of Bram Stoker, H. G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jules Verne.

If I'm being vague, it's because discovering the identities of these Extraodinaries is part of the surprise of reading. I will note that artist Kevin O'Neill's arresting depiction of the terrible Mr. Hyde as a skinned man-gorilla seems to be taken from a famous World War I propaganda poster, caricaturing a soldier of the Kaiser as a killer ape.

While The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is Moore in a Victorian mood, Tom Strong ($24.95) is based on 1930s pulp. Strong is Moore's answer to the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage. Savage (created by Kenneth Robeson) was the original dime-novel hyphenate, an athlete-scientist-explorer-millionaire-detective. Strong has all of Savage's talents. Like Savage, he's extravagantly wholesome and remote.

In the interest of superior eugenics, Strong's parents raised him in a pressurized glass bubble, with a robot butler named Pneumann as nanny. Tell me it's stranger than making a fetus listen to Mozart tapes.

Of these three America's Best collections, Top Ten ($24.95) is probably the easiest entry into Moore's new work. Victorian adventure and manly-chap stuff like Tom Strong may be a bit arcane compared to the easily followed (if warped) cop story Moore has written here.

The city of Neopolis is full of costumed superheroes of all economic classes--superhero bums, superhero CPAs, superhero Joe Lunchpails. Neopolis' bad part of town is the Tenth Precinct, nicknamed Top Ten. The slum is patrolled by more-than-human police officers who can't afford to live there and have to commute in from the suburbs.

The largest, toughest cop at the precinct is Smax, but he's not the hero. It's the women in the series who are of more interest: the lesbian Jack Phantom, who can walk through walls; the nine-foot-tall red-light-district boss Large Marge; police pathologist Sally-Joe Jessell, a.k.a. Micro-Maid, who shrinks to a few inches high to examine cadavers.

Our point of entry into the story is the rookie cop--a shy girl with very minor talents. She has a toy box of fully armed miniature helicopters and robots built for her by her father, an ex-cop afflicted with Alzheimer's disease.

Moore follows a week in the Top Ten's business. As in an episode of Hill Street Blues or Homicide, there's a serious murder investigation, alternating with the everyday time-wasters a cop-shop is heir to. One typically futile case: Top Ten deals with a drunken, pathetic, and yet dangerous Godzillaoid named Gograh, who breaks his restraining order, leaving Monster Island when his punk son Ernesto has a minor scuffle with the law.

This volume of Top Ten leaves you ready for more, and the annual anthology 64-Page Giant America's Best Comics ($6.95) provides it. Here's Moore at his loosest, with inside-jokey stories illustrated by talents like Dame Darcy and Kyle Baker.

Moore shows his usual gift for taking the boredom out of political correctness. The 64-Page Giant reaches its peak in the Top Ten adventure "DeadFellas." Here's testimony from the selective memory of one of Neopolis' premier team of crooked lawyers, Metavac, Fischmann, and Goebbels. The report describes the aftermath of a near-massacre between families of Transylvanian organized criminals with a "hereditary skin condition" that makes them sensitive to sunlight.

"Cosa Nosferatu--that's an offensive term," the vampire-mafia's hired mouthpiece protests. "It's an insult to the thousands of decent Hungarian-Americans who don't rise from the dead to feast on the living."

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From the February 1-7, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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