comicbookGRRRL Do not offend the chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible.

25Aug/110

Comic Review: Turf by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards

A celebrity writer producing a three way pulp genre mash up that sees gangsters and vampires embroiled in a turf war before a passing alien joins the fray, does sound a little like it should be destined for the bargain bin. But fans of vampires attacking space ships need not fear: Jonathan Ross, Britain's most flamboyant and successful television presenter, has once more landed on his feet with a well reviewed, and immensely popular, noir tale.

1920s prohibition era New York, where gangsters rule the streets, illegal booze flows through the veins of the city, and a good time girl is always available. Turf paints this period with a nostalgic tint, but the violent edge prowls ever present beneath the surface. Edwards' traditional brush and ink style breathes atmospheric tension through the panels, and this technique, along with the sheer reach of the title, makes it easy to forgive a few missteps along the way.

Turf by Jonathan Ross

This sleek and sturdy hardcover collects all five issues of Turf, and it is perhaps, a comic that works better as a whole rather than in serialised form. The first issue of Turf sold out of its initial 20,000 print run based on pre-orders alone, demonstrating either a huge demand for gangster comics or an excitement for the celebrity creator, but it received some criticism for the sheer amount of words crammed onto each page. As a whole book this now seems to make more sense, the initial chapters often requiring more set up and narration with the large cast and historical backdrop, but it is still a very dense read.

Ross has been receptive to criticism, explaining that he is learning as he goes, and certainly the word count decreases as the comic progresses. But wordiness isn't necessarily a bad thing, and if, like me, you enjoy a good solid chunk of reading, the first chapter of Turf is an excellent introduction to the world the writer has created.

A fab woman in comics: Susie DaleDon't mess with this woman!

The cast is large, with heroes and villains on all sides, many of whom are difficult to empathise with initially. The lead vampires are particularly enigmatic, though their elderly henchman could probably have done without the cliché Igor accent which points great big neon “I am a traitorous bad guy!” arrows at the character. But I'm always a sucker for the vulnerable vampire. The alien on the other hand is a fantastic character, the scenes with the hulking Squeed in an oversized trench coat and fedora invoking fond memories of the Thing on the Skrull gangster planet of Kral.

Within the human ranks things are a little more complicated; the majority of characters are clearly gangsters and thus either directly or indirectly responsible for a lot of the violence and murder that abounds. Susie Dale, a young reporter seeking to leave her gossip columns behind and work the crime desk (a situation familiar to one Lois Lane), has taken advantage of the flapper friendly Roaring Twenties to get her foot on the journalist career ladder. Bold and brash, she is certainly a character the reader can get behind, and it's fantastic to see a leading lady who isn't a damsel in distress.

Our 'hero' torturing for information...In BB time (Before Buffy) it's excusable not to recognise the fangs.

Eddie Falco on the other hand, is a real bad 'un. Sure, he's grown detached and weary of his crime filled ways, but his vows of not supplying a known torturer and necrophiliac with any more girls, rings somewhat hollow. But then, perhaps Eddie is in fact the ultimate antihero in that regard, standing up for his fellow humans despite the carnage he has inflicted on them himself. It certainly makes a change from the stereotypical burned out alcoholic detective that usually fills the role.

The cast may be varied but the theme is consistent: the connections we make and keep with others, and the choice we possess under duress of either giving in to our baser immoral instincts, or rising up as champions of our people. And perhaps also, that what choices we make in the past don't excuse or exonerate us from the choices we make in the present.

Squeed is pretty damn cool.Squeed is brilliantly done, and really looks the business.

Interestingly, Turf works just as well in the opening pages when it sticks mostly to a gangster only plot as it does when it introduces the vampire element, and then again when a spaceship tears through the sky. In 1927 Broadway had a hit show on its hands with the début of Dracula, and the 1920s were also the birthplace of modern weapons, reinvigorating pulp science fiction: an amalgamation of the three stories isn't entirely far-fetched at all. Turf does have a very full plot, and manages well to keep the various strands going, establishing various connections between characters and locations that are later put to good use.

Celebrity comic book writers have historically been a mixed bag, but from Richard Donner to Gerard Way, comics have more often than not benefited greatly from this injection of cross-genre talent. But still it seems celebrity writers have to work harder and faster to impress fans, and perhaps that's why the end result is often worth the hype.

Everyone needs guns and booze.The jump from noir to sci-fi is unexpectedly smooth.

Ross is no stranger to sequential art; his desire to create a comic has been a lifelong dream, since his first encounter with the medium as a geeky 11 year old. He may well be famous in Britain for being our high priest of entertainment, and infamous for his brushes with the headlines, but he is equally well known for being an adorable dork with a genuine love of everything geeky. He has described his passion for comics as being greater than his fondness for films and television, and is keen to help widen the comics audience.

He has also of course been immortalised in comics themselves, from a recent cameo in Knight & Squire, to a long distant role in Mark Millar's Saviour where Ross appeared as the Antichrist himself, in full yuppie glory. Predictably the entertainment was none too bothered, and in later years the two became became friendly with Turf being serialised in Millar's CLiNT magazine.

Alien in a trench coat .. it just works.I'm not the only one seeing the Thing, right?

Rumours abound that Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class) is interested in adapting Turf for the cinema screen; Ross' wife of course is the utterly fabulous Jane Goldman, Vaughn's favourite screenwriter who's latest film, an adaptation of Susan Hill's The Women in Black (starring Daniel Radcliffe), hits screens early next year. It could make for a sumptuous film: think Road to Perdition meets Black Sunday meets The Iron Giant. Or substitute titles for a more likely but less awesome mix.

Will there be a follow up? The ending certainly suggests as much, and there are a lot of threads left hanging that I'd certainly be keen to see picked up again. Ross' next venture with Edwards is The Golden Age, another project that Vaughn has expressed serious interest in. This title sees retired superheroes returning to save the day à la Red, The Incredibles, The Expendibles etc. There is also apparently a title named Home Run on the table, this time in collaboration with David LaFuente. If there is a Turf 2, it may have to wait.

Turf demonstrates that you can never have too many gangster comics, that there is still mileage in the vampire element yet, and that most of all, unintelligible aliens make the best heroes.

'Turf' is out on the 9th of September, published by Titan, priced £18.99
(though is available in many shops as of this week!)

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