Top 10: The Forty-Niners, a graphic novel published by America's Best Comics in 2005, is a prequel to the ABC series Top 10, a police procedural set in the city of Neopolis, where superpowers, robots, monsters, and other comic fodder are the norm for all citizens. It was written by Alan Moore, drawn by Gene Ha, and colored by Art Lyon, with lettering, logos, and design by Todd Klein. Unlike the original series and its spin-off Smax, it was released in one 112 page edition instead of being released in separate issues and collected later. It won the 2006 Eisner Award in the "Best Graphic Album: New" category.
The Forty-Niners is set in 1949, in the founding days of Neopolis. After World War II, realizing that average citizens do not want to live next door to the science heroes, mutants, and robots largely responsible for the Allied victory, the U.S. government built Neopolis, where all of these exceptional people can live together. The story primarily follows a young Steve Traynor, a.k.a. Jetlad, the boy fighter ace who will later become Captain of Neopolis Police Precinct 10, from which the series derives its name. The primary story lines follow Jetlad's meeting with the great love of his life (seen at the end of Top 10: Book 2) and the formative days of the Neopolis Police, as they try to prove that they can bring order to the chaos of Neopolis in the face of vampire gangsters and bigotry against robots.
The story features several characters who either appear in the original Top 10, or else who are alluded to in conversation or background picture.
Cast of characters
In 1949, 16-year-old Steven Traynor is stateside after fighting the Axis forces in the skies over Europe. Joining him on his train ride is Leni Muller, a defector from the German Luftwaffe who fought Steven on her industrial broomstick as the Skywitch. Both are headed to the newly founded Neopolis, a city where the "science heroes," robots, mad scientists and other unique characters are being located to (out of the public's eye). After registering at town hall, Steven and Leni both head to their lodgings at Betty Doesgood's. Later that night at Scowling Joe's bar, Steven is introduced to the The Skysharks, fellow pilots that act as a private air force for Neopolis. Skyshark Wulf recommends Steven to be mechanic for the air field, an idea he happily accepts. After a near scuffle between local gangsters and Scowling Joe, Leni is introduced to several members of the police force, and decides to apply for a job.
After meeting officers like armored scientist Steelgauntlet and toy inventor Major Lilliput, Leni is introduced to her partner, the Black Rider. Out on her first patrol, Leni and Black Rider arrest a hero and his sidekick for felony vigilante assault on a former archenemy. The partners then get a call to investigate a call from the Institute, the scientific research facility where many of the German refugee scientists are currently working. The body of Herr Panzer has been discovered, his body turned to ash and bones inside his armored suit. While Black Rider calls in for a forensics cleanup, Leni takes statements from her countrymen. At the Skysharks air field, Wulf and Steven relive the war through the eyes of the archived newsreels. The intimacy between Wulf and himself makes Steven a bit uneasy, and he buries himself in his work, rather than talk to Wulf about it.
As Major Lilliput has his toy soldiers transport the remains of Herr Panzer, he mentions what he has read about the scientists' secretive Janon project, an energy experiment dealing with particles that "go both ways in time." When Muller meets up with Wulf and Steven at Scowling Joe's, the young pilot makes a show of strong affection for his female friend, then quickly escorts her back to their apartments, where he fumbles through an attempt at sex with Leni. Heading outside after his awkward encounter, Steven follows a police wagon to Scowling Joe's, where the Cosa Nosferatu (vampire mafia) have murdered the barkeep and local prostitute.
After a tense and silent breakfast at Betty Doesgood's, Leni leaves to assist in a bust on a Nosferatu whorehouse. The raid leads to the arrest of the mayor's nephew, as well as a high-ranking enforcer being killed by the Maid. At the Skyshark air field, Wulf and Steve share an awkward moment, and the older pilot eventually admits to being gay and having an attraction to Steven, but his friend cannot find the courage to voice his emotions. Wulf says he will be around. Police captain Doctor Omega congratulates his officers on the raid, but warns about likely reprisals from the mafia. Leni and Black Rider are then informed of a lead at the Institute, where they learn that several of the scientists were secretly creating a time machine to re-write the outcome of the war, but Leni successfully halts their attempts. Doctor Omega tells Steelgauntlet he's putting him in charge of intercepting a Nosferatu replacement arriving at the subway station, saying Steel knows the reason why he is being given the responsibility. As Wulf and Steven leave work for the night, Steve admits to wanting to spend time with Wulf, and the two agree to head to Wulf's apartment. In the privacy of his office, John Sharkey, the squadron leader, draws plans for a bombing raid on Neopolis itself, with the key target being the shipyards, home to all of the robotic and automaton residents.
Due to the bad press from the mayor's nephew being arrested, the subway arrest has to go off without incident, or the city might defer its security to martial law (such as Skysharks) within days. The preparations appear flawless, but the squad feels anxious when they discover that the one officer the vampires have a natural fear and weakness against, the Maid, is on special assignment out of town. Before the squad leaves on its assignment, Leni is stopped by Steven, who apologizes for his behavior earlier. He admits to being gay, and asks if she can still think of him as a friend. Leni is unable to decide then, and leaves to help in the arrest. At the station, Steelgauntlet has his suspicions about how easy the bust will be, but Doctor Omega assures him of the success of the mission, guaranteeing good press thanks to the reporters waiting outside to document the police's triumph. Just then, the sky is flooded with bats and vampires.
As Steven makes it to the air field, he discovers Wulf on the floor, bleeding from gunshot wounds in the leg and shoulder. Lars and Sharkey stole their planes and flew off to complete the bombing run, in an attempt to stage a military coup. Steven despairs with the situation heard over the radio about the vampires in addition to the Skysharks, but Wulf encourages the young ace, and gives him a good luck kiss. Steven hops in his jet-propelled craft, Beauty, and pursues. Outside the train station, Doctor Omega orders Steelgauntlet to take the brunt of the vampire attack, while the other officers rally around fire hydrants. Leni is dismayed at the sight of Steel's armored body being torn to shreds, but Doctor Omega assures his survival. Standing on the edge of the city reservoir, the Maid blesses the water, allowing the police to unleash gallons of holy water on their attackers. Leni rushes to Steelgauntlet's side, only to be shocked at his electronic inner workings. Just as she is about to scour the air for any remaining bats, the robot district erupts in flames.
Steven catches up to the Skysharks, managing to down Lars, but Sharkey begins to strafe Steven, until Leni swoops in and catches Sharkey off guard with a grenade launcher. After the fires are put out in the shipyards, Leni stands with Steelgauntlet, asking him to trust her with his secrets, so she can understand him. Frank Chambers, the identity Steelgauntlet had assumed, died burned beyond recognition. His creation lived on as the first true artificial intelligence. In the hospital, Steven visits Wulf, telling him he wants to live the rest of his life together. Wulf, however, scoffs at being anything more than a first love. The pair have about as much chance of lasting as the bizarre city of freaks in tights. "I give it six months."