Zander Cannon has done a nice enough job picking up where Alan Moore left off with the “Top Ten” series. Cannon’s contributions (along with co-writer Kevin Cannon’s) to the world of Neopolis have been nowhere near the quality of Moore’s densely-loaded stories, but Moore set the bar so high that reaching that level of comic book goodness is a near-impossible task for any writer. Cannon and Cannon have certainly done better than Paul Di Philippo, whose “Top Ten: Beyond the Farthest Precinct” had little to recommend it besides the Jerry Ordway artwork.
With “Top Ten,” artwork is a big deal, though, and I’ll get back to that in a minute.
First, it’s time to talk about what Cannon and Cannon have done with this one-shot, basically turning the series into an episode of “Perry Mason” for an issue. The concept of “Top Ten” has always been pretty simple: a police procedural in a world in which everyone has superpowers. At least, that was Alan Moore’s concept, although he certainly took a different approach in “The Forty-Niners” graphic novel. And Cannon and Cannon have continued the police procedural approach in the new “Top Ten” series, bringing in a new police commissioner to stir things up.
But here we get former officer Girl Two, Sung Li, in her new role as a public defender. So the police procedural moves to the courthouse, like the second half of a “Law and Order” episode.
It’s a concept that fits well within the framework of the series, but the problem is that this particular story reads like one of the more generic issues of the recently-cancelled “She-Hulk” series. Girl Two isn’t much like Jennifer Walters, but it’s just a super-villain on trial story, with not much in the way of originality. And to make the “She-Hulk” connection a bit more explicit — if sort of sideways — the prosecutor in this particular case is a “Mr. Bannell” who keeps transforming into a giant green brute whenever he’s enraged (which happens a lot during and after the trial).
The accused is a guy named Jeremiah Umar, who has the power to astral project and sports a hairstyle made completely of flames. Umar wants to plead guilty, insists that he is guilty, but Girl Two goes against her client’s wishes and enters a “not guilty” plea because she suspects that her client isn’t being totally honest with her. Something is fishy about this guy’s eagerness to go to prison.
The rest of the issue has the requisite twists and turns as Umar complains about Girl Two’s skills as an attorney, prosecutor Bannell Hulks out, and Girl Two tries to put the clues together to solve the mystery of the dude-who-wants-to-go-to-jail-even-though-he’s-probably-innocent.
It’s fine, even if the ending is not much of a surprise (well, the epilogue on the final page is a bit of a surprise, but that’s only because Girl Two’s words seem strangely limp for what is set up to be some kind of important character moment), but this comic suffers from something greater than a plot retread from various television shows: the loss of Gene Ha.
Ha is such an essential part of “Top Ten” that whenever he’s not around to draw an issue, it might as well not be a “Top Ten” comic. Cannon and Cannon can pull off their pseudo-Alan Moore approach as long as they have Ha’s artwork to accompany them, but with Daxiong doing the pencils, inks, and colors here, it just doesn’t look very impressive. Daxiong’s style is nothing like Ha’s, and he can’t provide the detail and texture that have always made “Top Ten” something special. Daxiong does a decent enough job with the character work, but it’s a thin-line style that doesn’t do anything to distinguish this from any other third-tier comic book on the stands.
And it should be better. It’s supposed to be “Top Ten,” after all.