America’s Best Comics is one of my favourite imprints. Ever.

It was a joy, easily living up to its name. Publishing some of America’s best comics. At least for a little while. It was Alan Moore and a host of incredible collaborators, like Kevin O’Neill, Rick Veitch, JH Williams III, Chris Sprouse, Gene Ha, Zander Cannon, Kevin Nowlan, Todd Klein, Bill Oakley, Alex Sinclair, Jeromy Cox, Steve Moore, and countless more, crafting beautiful, timely, and wonderful explorations of the comics medium. In books like Tom Strong, Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Tomorrow Stories, and Top 10.

There was a verve to the creations that tapped into the rich past possibilities of the medium and brought them back in new and fresh ways. But it sadly didn’t last.

The War’s over, and thank Gosh, we won it.”

Top 10: The Forty-Niners by Alan Moore, Gene Ha, Art Lyon, Ellen Star Lyon, and Todd Klein was among the final things published for the line. Exploring the early days of the city of Neopolis, a town meant to serve as a new home for all of the science heroes following World War II, it acted as a prequel to the regular Top 10 series.

The artwork from Gene Ha, Art Lyon, and Ellen Star Lyon is exquisite. Ha, with Zander Cannon and Alex Sinclair, handled the pencil work for the main series, but here it’s slightly a different beast. He maintains the highly detailed, densely-packed, intricately designed character work and architecture that Top 10 was known for, but it shifts to this late ’40s aesthetic. The characters echo the retro, art deco, feel of the time period.

Which is aided immensely by the ink washes and colours from the Lyons. Much of the book is bathed in grey and sepia tones, regularly driving home the idea that this is a flashback. It’s not limited by it, there is still a muted colour palette that serves for the characters, it’s just that everything is then washed by those overlain tones. It works very well to establish the atmosphere. And opens up some interesting trippy colour experimentation when there’s some time travel.

Not to forget the usual impeccable lettering from Todd Klein. Klein shifts his style for robots, songs, a blessed character, and the old style microphones. They’re just nice added touches that enrich the world.

But now. Now all the noise has stopped, and it is quiet. Now we can hear our hearts again. What now?”


In many ways, The Forty-Niners is a coming of age story. Both for Steven Traynor, one of our focal characters, who will go on to be Captain of the tenth precinct in the future series. And for Neopolis itself as it tries to find what kind of city it will be, and whether it will be one primarily led by the police or the military.

It’s not without content that some would consider problematic. Traynor is a 16 year old, closeted gay kid, a veteran who fought from the age of 10, and trying to find his identity. First in the arms of his 21 year old friend, and once rival, the other focal character, Leni Muller. And then also a member of his adopted crew, the Skysharks, the 25 year old Wulf. While it does reflect a different time, and a difficult time for a kid, it also kind of sets something else in the mind that is a major theme: prejudice.

Not necessarily for queer identity. That’s one of the more beautiful things in that it’s accepting as a statement of fact. But there’s still prejudice towards Nazis, vampires (sorry, “Hungarian-Americans”), and clickers (robots). Some of it is resolved in positive ways. Others, especially Nazis and vampires, seem to be borne out as justified prejudices. It’s kind of interesting in its moral stance, which feels like a condemnation of things like Operation Paperclip.

And this city, full of lunatics in bathing suits. That could work out, too.”

In a different world, America’s Best Comics is still going. All of the creators own their work, whatever stories they wished to tell manifested, and none of DC Comics’ meddling ever happened. We don’t live in that world. But at least we did get things like Top 10: The Forty-Niners from Moore, Ha, Lyon, Lyon, and Klein. For a little while. It’s an artifact out of time about a make believe world out of time. And, damn, does it have some gorgeous artwork.


Classic Comic Compendium: Top 10 – The Forty-Niners

Top 10: The Forty-Niners
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Gene Ha
Colourist: Art Lyon with Ellen Star Lyon
Letterer: Todd Klein
Publisher: DC Comics / Wildstorm – America’s Best Comics
Release Date: August 3 2005

Available collected in Top 10 Compendium

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!


  1. “It’s not without content that some would consider problematic. Traynor is a 16 year old”

    That’s an understatement which is itself problematic. That is a huge issue with a series that could have been great. Some child abuse is okay? Because Traynor was into it? Or because gays are perverts anyway? The plot point is part of a larger child sex abuse storyline in the original series and is no way resolved satisfactorily here. And God knows how the incest plotline in Smax got through.

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