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Worlds Apart?

 

Swamp Thing:

Earth To Earth

Alan Moore,

Rick Veitch, John Totleben,

Alfredo Alcala

DC/Vertigo, 2002

Rating: 4.8

   

Top 10: Collected Edition: Book 2

Alan Moore, Gene Ha,

Zander Cannon

America's Best Comics, 2002

Rating: 4.2

Posted: May 14, 2002

By Kevin Forest Moreau

Alan Moore is comics' perfect superstar. As inventive as Orson Welles circa Citizen Kane (or Brian Wilson circa Pet Sounds), as reclusive as Howard Hughes, as contradictory and contrary a figure as ...well, name your favorite contradictory and contrary figure. Moore meticulously built his reputation within the confines of DC Comics' superhero universe, only to shun those environs for the more intellectually verdant pastures of From Hell, Big Numbers and other endeavors. Only to return to the job of crafting self-aware superhero commentaries, first for Image and then, ultimately, again for DC (under the aegis of his own America's Best Comics and Jim Lee's Wildstorm imprint).

The obvious course, even for fans of his metaphysical, metafictional capes-and-tights capers, is to harbor suspicions of "selling out." But such name-calling, accurate or not, is irrelevant: For whether he's taking the money and running or devoting himself body and soul to the America's Best Comics titles, it's clear that Moore's outsized intellect, his fiendish imagination, has rarely been as fully engaged. And while all of the ABC titles display this wicked wit, none do so on as admirable or hilarious a scale as Top 10.

As conceived by Moore and painstakingly rendered in a mix of the fantastic and the photo-real by Gene Ha and Zander Cannon, the world of Top 10 is one in which the ever-multiplying ranks of super-beings necessitate the building of a city big enough to contain them all. Consequently, every being in Neopolis, from the prostitute on the corner to the members of the latest boy-band, has a super-power, and a code-name to match. Top 10 concerns itself with the detectives and officers of the 10th Precinct, part of a police network covering many alternate Earths, as they track down leads, Law and Order-style, in a string of serial murders and the eventual uncovering of a kiddie-porn ring disguised as a superhero group whose exploits no one can actually verify.

Like its predecessor, this second volume (collecting issues 8-12 of the series) is packed to bursting with flashes of Moore's hyper-cleverness: A teleportation collision snarls traffic, two human victims dead or dying due to being fused with the larger body of a giant talking game-piece in a cosmic chess match; an apartment is victimized by warring super-powered cats and mice involved in a Crisis-sized conflagration, and an exterminator hired to flush them out is forgotten when time is altered and the entire conflict is erased from memory. A seedy red-light district boasts marquees like "Tools of Suspense," "Journey into Mammary" and "Strange Tails." Familiar characters from comics and television appear as background extras at an inter-dimensional travel depot.

Top 10 is arguably the best of Moore's ABC output, but even at its manic, sensory-overload best, it's a conceit: never any more or less than an amusing and interesting fusion of workable genre conventions into a sturdily constructed plotline for a lysergic cop show. And its humorous glimpse of a fantastically-garbed parallel world lacks the visceral splash of cold water that Moore threw in the faces of complacent comics readers with his groundbreaking 1980s work on Swamp Thing: Earth To Earth, the fifth volume to collect Moore's run on the title, pulses with a depth that the enjoyable but ultimately light Top 10 never even approaches.

The action in Earth To Earth centers mainly around the Swamp Thing's quest to free his human lover, Abigail Cable, who's been arrested on a "crimes against nature"-style charge for her relationship with the muck-encrusted Plant Elemental. Cable, who's been photographed by a tabloid shutterbug while cavorting with the Swamp Thing in the Louisiana swamps, is confronted by police at the home for autistic children where she works. After her employer bails her out and fires her in one fell swoop, Abby ill-advisedly jumps her bail, hopping a bus for Gotham City. No sooner does she arrive, however, then she's picked up by cops rounding up hookers in a Vice sweep. The Swamp Thing, returning to the swamps after saving the world at the end of the previous storyline, learns of his beloved's predicament and sets forth to demand her release.

It's impressive to note in today's hyper-accelerated society that a couple of years into his run on the book, Moore was still meticulously charting S.T.'s newfound abilities as a Plant Elemental. While the previous cataclysmic storyline showed him gaining confidence in his new role, the Gotham storyline displays a Swamp Thing in full control, turning the whole of ultra-urban Gotham into a verdant, over-run jungle, credibly threatening to cripple the city unless Cable is freed. Of course, setting the story in Gotham is little more than an excuse to have S.T. go up against the Batman, but this confrontation pales in thrill value next to such feats as S.T. warping the floorboards of a courtroom into a giant wooden face of fury through which he issues his ultimatum to the city.

As he does throughout his run, Moore makes the best use possible out of the fact that the Swamp Thing inhabits the same DC universe as such iconic characters as Batman and Superman. Shadowy government types consult with Supes' foe Lex Luthor, who on the spot scribbles a plan capable of defeating S.T., cutting off his vibrational escape route into "the Green," the lattice of floral energy and essence from which he draws his powers. Thus, S.T.'s triumphant reunion with Cable is cut drastically short, as an ambush results in his body being destroyed and his spirit being rendered incapable of bolting to create a new form. Thus Moore sets up his following storyline, which catapults S.T.'s essence into outer space for a series of sci-fi-tinged adventures, the first of which, "My Blue Heaven," closes this volume.

Much of Moore's success on Swamp Thing can be directly attributed to the lush artwork of such talents as Steven Bissette (not seen here), John Totleben and Rick Veitch, and Earth To Earth is no exception. Special mention must also go to colorist Tatjana Wood, whose simultaneously murky and vibrant palette lends consistency to the various artists' sketchy styles.

Top 10 shows that some two decades into his mainstream comics career, Alan Moore is still capable of crafting "gotcha" concepts and creating worlds overflowing with ingenious detail. But Earth To Earth displays a quicksilver talent able to mine the deep soil of horror, fantasy and superheroics for something infinitely more substantial and rewarding.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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