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Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct

Written by Paul Di Filippo and illustrated by Jerry Ordway
Wildstorm/DC
128 pages, $14.99
ISBN: 1401209912

I'm not particularly a fan of superhero comics, but I do appreciate a good story, and I like watching overworn genre material presented in a new light. It's for these reasons that I was entertained by good chunks of Alan Moore's attempt at bringing the superhero back to its roots: his America's Best Comics line. It helped that Moore was making a conscious effort to rein in his own worst tendencies, including his often annoying need for multilayered symmetry. Instead, Moore spent his time developing what Neil Gaiman refers to as "story machines," concepts that suggest a number of different directions for stories.

Of these, Top 10 was the most effective, in part because the core concept — an entire city made up of nothing but superheroes, cast as the setting of a police procedural — was so ludicrous on the face of it. With so outlandish a premise, the stories themselves could be relatively straightforward, since the backdrop would always provide the more outlandish and picturesque elements that stories like these require.

Still, even a story engine like Top 10 needs a storyteller capable of handling the concept as built, and with Beyond the Farthest Precinct, Paul Di Filippo has proven himself to be such a writer. Like Moore, Di Filippo is capable of juggling multiple storylines in an effective and engaging manner, using disperate plots to move the nominal core story forward without ignoring the integrity of the subplots themselves. Thus, not only do we get an engaging tale of robotic drug abuse, we also watch behind-the-scenes politics in the police station, an incestuous pair of magical barbarian heroes looking to settle into domestic bliss, the less than blissful marriage of another pair of heroes as it crumbles beyond repair, a lesbian hero falling for her partner, and even an adoption story — none of them sufficiently fleshed out enough to be stories on their own, but orchestrated well enough to play off against one another in support of a larger story-arc.

 

Spot the funnybook in-jokes! Panel from Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct, ©2006 America's Best Comics, LLC.

 

Also entertaining is the opportunity to see veteran comic-book artist Jerry Ordway going to town in the creation of the city backdrop, stuffing street scenes with walk-on extras from seemingly a thousand different comics — enough chicken fat to keep Will Elder fed for a year. The reader can pour over these pages again and again, looking for comics references and in-jokes dropped into the background. There's Ragman and Art Spiegelmaus! Jessica Rabbit, Silk Satin and Little Annie Fanny as streetwalkers! Tik Tok selling robot drugs! Eric Powell's Goon and Alice the Goon! Okay, it turns out that Ordway can't draw Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth to save his life, but he turns out a mean Buddy Bradley, and his Tintin and his Nancy & Sluggo are dead-on. You could do this all day.

It all works because the sole objective of its creators is to entertain, and everything from the premise to the story to the artwork was crafted with that in mind. Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct does what it sets out to do, for about the price of a movie and at a nearly equivalent reading time. It's nice to know that someone working the superhero beat remembers the point of the whole thing, anyway.

 

Top right: A scene straight out of Hill Street Blues becomes bizarre and interesting with the introduction of a manga-esque robot. Panel from Top 10: Beyond the Farthest Precinct, ©2006 America's Best Comics, LLC.

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

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