Britain and the US have very different comic book traditions. America comics (I am talking about Marvel and DC) focus on the Bright and Beautiful, the shining stars that fly above humanity. Britain (I am talking about 2000AD) focuses on the rabble — the regular folk who do most of the living and dying, who do the heavy lifting, the dirty foot soldiers. America wants its heroes good looking and powerful. Britain wants heroes you could run into at the pub.
With The Ten-Seconders, Rob Williams thought it would be fun to mash the two worlds together and make them fight. And he was right.
The short background is that out of nowhere, super-powered beings appeared. Called "gods." They first help the world then decide to rule it. A ragtag bunch of regular Joes — called Ten Seconders because they only last 10 seconds in confrontation with a god — organize a resistance to try and take back their world. America's Bright and Beautiful vs. Britain's rabble. (Of course, Williams is British so his crew gets to be the heroes.)
There are two story arcs; In American Dream , the Ten Seconders tackle the classic superhero avatars; Hero (Superman), Lord Mach (The Flash), Watchtower (Hawkman), Damage (The Hulk), The Scientist (Mr. Fantastic), etc … In "Make Believe," they fight DCs Vertigo imprint with Root (Swamp Thing) and Holland, a self-styled Goth/Vampire King. (Williams also reveals the big twist he has been working towards).
Williams plays on familiar tropes, and counts on your recognition of the meta-elements to fill in blanks. (If you've spent your life reading comics and watching sic-fi flicks — as I assume everyone has — the world of The Ten-Seconders is completely familiar). But if you think "I've seen that before," you are wrong. Instead of just strip-mining the already plundered "subverted superhero" genre, he recycles these conventions into a new genre — the post-apocalyptic superhero comic.
This comic is more than a Garth Ennis "make superheroes naughty then blow them up" type of thing. Williams wisely focuses on his human cast, which give The Ten-Seconders its depth.
Clearly outclassed and outgunned, the Ten Seconders fight a desperate battle against their overlords. (Just like Terminator). Malloy is a former priest who now clings to the god-slaying themes of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Jennifer is the ingénue, a bit of prettiness in an ugly world that makes everything worth fighting for. And Harris is the bloke — a regular, earthy guy who can crack a joke while putting a bullet through someone's head.
The interplay of the human characters makes the book. I also enjoyed the religious themes William's threads through his story. Using the term "gods" for his superheroes puts a spin on things, and gives the ex-priest Malloy a crucible to be tested by. His near-worship of Jennifer shows how desperately he needs something to believe in. And Harris — in true British fashion — just wants the world to return to normal enough so he can head to the pub for a beer and a bird (that's Brit-talk for "girls").
What keeps The Ten-Seconders from being a full five-star book is the art. Individually all of the artists are good, but there are too many of them. Mark Harrison draws "The American Dream," while Dom Reardon, Shaun Thomas, and Ben Oliver all draw "Make Believe." I know it's a pet peeve of mine — and a reality in the modern comics world of tight deadlines and such — but I firmly believe in "One Singer, One Song." Mixing up the art in a book this short between four artists is too much.
Zack Davisson is a freelance writer and life-long comics fan. He owned a comic shop in Seattle during the '90s, during which time he had the glorious (and unpaid) gig as pop-culture expert for NPR. He has lived in three countries, has degrees in Fine Art and Japanese Studies, and has been a contributing writer to magazines like Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. He currently lives in Seattle, WA with his wife Miyuki. You can catch more of Zack's reviews on his blog Japan Reviewed or read his translations of Japanese ghost stories on Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.