I know I promised no more Alan Moore blogging…but I just remembered this letter I wrote back in 2000 to the Top Ten letter column, back when I was young and foolish and hadn’t figured out that the proper place for random pointless burbling is the Internet. So here we go (“Donut Shop” was, apparently, the name of the letters column.)
Dear Donut Shop,
I’ve been a fan of Alan Moore’s since his Swamp Thing days, and for the most part I’ve enjoyed the ABC titles. Top 10, unfortunately, is something of an exception. The writing and art are both frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and the characters are engaging. But whenever I put down an issue, I tend to find myself both frustrated and depressed.
The problem I have with the series is that Top 10 portrays the police as heroes. Cops may make mistakes, but civilian charges of bias or misconduct — of shapeism, speciesism, or just general abusiveness — are clearly not supposed to be believable. Smax may beat up gang-members, or drug-users, or drunk thunder-gods, but he is a good sort at heart, and, in any case, even the drunk’s all-knowing father thinks he had it coming. Whatever their faults, the police are the good guys.
Of course, in real life, things are less clear cut. Police in New York and Chicago have shot several unarmed civilians in the past year. In Los Angeles, anti-gang units have been accused of drug-trafficking, fabricating evidence, and torture. And at the recent anti-WTO demonstrations in Washington D.C. and Seattle, police used tear gas on, and apparently even shot at, peaceful demonstrators.
All of this is not to suggest that police are super-villains or that they are “bad” (though, of course, there are bad police, just as there are bad bankers or bad teachers.). Police are just working-class people who, like most working-class people, have an unpleasant job. That job is to promote justice, as defined by the rich whites who, in general, run the country. Practically, this means keeping poor minorities in their place by, for instance, enforcing drug-laws which notoriously target African-American populations, or by intimidating protestors. In recent years, it has also meant filling prisons to bursting with non-violent offenders and, in the tried and true traditions of police states, punishing more and more minor infractions of the law with more and more draconian sentences.
Top 10’s refusal to address the actual position of police in our society is particularly frustrating because the premise of the comic seems ideal for doing so. Linking super-hero titles with police procedurals is really a stroke of genius. As Alan’s story shows, both genres share many traits in common — a belief in the ultimate rightness of law and order primary among them. But, while books like Promethea and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen are willing to deal, at least tangentially, with the questions of gender and imperialism raised by their pulp sources, Top 10 , apparently, has nothing to say about justice, except, in issue 8, that on the great grey board, white is winning. This is no doubt true. But it is of little comfort to many of the people in this country and the world, who are not white, and are not winning.
And no, this never got printed. I actually think now that Top Ten may be my favorite of those ABC titles; I think it’s politics are still suspect, but it had the most engaging plot all the way through, especially since Promethea went so spectacularly off the rails….